The Magic Week

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a magic one. Work is slow, often slow enough to enjoy some reading, planning, thinking time. An excellent time to take a look at your plans for 2015. I’m against making New Year’s resolutions, for three simple reasons:

How to protect a cactus from a freeze. The secret is knowing what will save a plant and what wastes time and materials.

How to protect a cactus from a freeze. The secret is knowing what will save a plant and what wastes time and materials. Planning for 2015 uses the same rules.

1. They are generally too big or too vague to succeed. (I want to eat a healthy diet; I want to lose 20 pounds, I want to have a better relationship with X.)

2. There are no how-to steps or plans to break the task from bigger to smaller steps. Nothing fails faster than a big plan with no small victories and check-in days.

3. There is no support system. Unless you enroll a support system, your family and friends will not want you to change. When you change, they will also have to change, and they didn’t sign up for that. They will send you change-back messages until you cave and give up.

So what to think about 2015? Start with things that worked well for you in 2014.

We all meet dips in our lives. We don't always get warnings.

We all meet dips in our lives. We don’t always get warnings.

A relationship that went well. A success at work. A goal you met. Anything that worked well. Write it down. Describe it in detail. Celebrate your success. Continued success is built on previous, recognized, success.

Next, look at where you started in 2014 and how far you have come. Overcoming difficulties. Skirting tough times with grace. OK, without grace, but with persistence. Looking back to see how far you have come is a necessary step to keep moving ahead.

It’s tempting to think of the person you would like to be in 2015. Even more tempting to make it a whole new person. But it’s far more worthwhile spending your time finding yourself than trying to be someone new.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach, writer, and business trainer who is planning for 2015 in a week that also includes a lot of reading and sleeping.



Making Change Work for You

We are now four days into the New Year–heading toward a week. How are those resolutions coming? I’m not a fan of resolutions, 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 can get derailed if you don't enlist your family and friends to help you.

Change can get derailed if you don’t enlist your family and friends to help you.

When you decide to change, you have your past to wrestle with. You choose the path to change and suddenly your inner critic 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 months. That’s as long as it will take you to establish the new habit in place of the old. Most people say one month, but two is more realistic.

One to substitute the new action and make it a habit,  the next to overcome the pushback from your friends and family. 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 changing. And it’s damn hard.

Word for the Year Wrap-Up

When I wrote about digging for a word of the year, I didn’t know it was going to be so popular. I’m delighted it was. One person told me they hated the idea, that as a Renaissance person, she preferred a theme of the year, but that was fine with me, too. One of the 30-day writing participants picked Hillel’s philosophy of “If not now, when?” as a theme. I’m not making or enforcing rules, I’m tossing out suggestions.

The card I chose. Or it chose me.

“The word should be limber and supple, without any stiffness of punishment, or hashmarks to measure yourself with and find yourself coming up short. . . It should be a good, chewy word that will last a whole year. ”

People made all sorts of suggestions: Easy, Fun, Kindness, Light, Salt, Share, Notice, Free, Celebrate, Action, Laugh, Dream, Explore, Heart, Simplify, Enjoy, Think Less, Let God, Weave, Intention, Trust God, Begin Again, Namaste, Rediscover Joy,  Change, Weave, Bold, Refine, Create, Surrender to Divinity, Synchronicity, Connect, Delight, Risk, Emerge, Prolific, Nest, Grow, Survival, Gift, Choosing Life, Possibility, and many more, even Efficacious.

What a great group of words! I hope they show up often in your lives. Visit them often, don’t let them slip away. I love the idea of “Salt,” both as a verb, as in “salt that great idea away for a while,” and as a noun, in the folkloric “meat loves salt” way.

Reviewing my own, I chose Light in 2010, Step It Up in 2011, and this year, well, it’s a different direction. At the end of December, I attended a ritual in which we wrote down what we wanted to leave in 2011 and tossed the pieces of paper in the firepit. We then were blessed and smudged with sage, cleansed with a selenite wand, and sent to choose a card from a basket. The card held our word for 2012. I chose “Suffering.” My eyes must have bugged out because the woman holding the basket said, “You can throw it into the fire and choose a new one.” That, I felt, would be like riding to avoid the appointment in Samarra.

I turned the card over and it said, “The cause of all suffering is craving. Desire

What suffering means in this case.

things that YOU do not have, and suffering will follow. Realize this and peace will be YOURS. Suffering will disappear and contentment will reign.” I know this to be true about myself. When I want [any item from my impressive list of cravings–starting with my 7th-grade need to be one of the cool kids]  I turn miserable. I hate being miserable alone, so I bring other people with me into my misery. Eww. So I’m keeping Suffering as my first word.  You may notice it’s not a fun as some of the other words. . . .uh-oh, craving again. It’s necessary. Now, moving on. . .

I did allow myself another word. STAY. I found the word on someone else’s blog and she kindly offered to share it with me–and I want to offer her a guest-post here. She will have to contact me, though, because I thoght I saved her website link, but it vanished.

I love the idea of Stay. Stay when you want to run away from problems. Stay and enjoy the nice things someone is saying about you. Stay with your feeling of inadequacy until you realize it’s not your feeling, just a shadow. Stop running into the dark, stop fleeing away from those hard feelings. Stop hiding from your enemies, your talent, your meaning-making. Stay.

Happy 2012 to all of my wonderful readers, including those with good ideas, who made me laugh, and who show up for my workshops. I am so grateful to be on this side of 2012 with all of you.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach, journaler and writer. She teaches what she practices.

Word of the Year, Week 2

No, I won’t do this every week of the year. (Here’s last week’s post.)  But your emails and comments let me know this is still a topic that people are exploring. (The original pick-your-word-post.)

I’m changing my word. You can, too. Sometimes that word we choose in a wistful, sentimental, misty-eyed moment at the end of the year doesn’t fit when the bright sun comes up in the New Year. That’s what happened to me.  I had chosen “wonder”–as both a noun and a verb, as in “I wonder what will happen if I mix this and that?” and “I looked at the orange tree with wonder.”

A great reminder about watching yourself. From my friend Liz Crain.

If your word isn’t working, or it’s not as inspiring as you thought, or the events of the first two weeks made you change your mind, please do so.

My new word for the year is “step up.” Technically, it’s two words. No one is counting. There are no rules (despite the email one person sent me.)

I need to step up more. To speak what I think. To live my values. Not to be quiet and turn my head when someone says something hateful, mean or combative. Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I’m not talking about picking a fight with people  with whom I don’t agree. That’s not it.  But I do mean speaking up when someone says something gossipy or harmful in my presence. I think we’ve gone long enough not wanting to confront or correct others. I am a huge First Amendment believer, but if they have the right to speak, I have the right to speak back. Politely, but in a stepping-up kind of way.

Another example of stepping up is to be the voice of my book. In July, the book will come out. People are asking me about it, and I’m downplaying it. Because, honestly, that’s what women of a certain age, who were raised to be humble and meek were taught. I wrote that book for people who are scared, who think they aren’t enough, who are daring to keep a journal to find themselves in their journey. Those thoughts are important. Those people are worthwhile. It’s time to stand up for the book, not to act embarrassed that I wrote a book. Last week I caught myself mumbling, “Oh, it’s just about art.” What?  “Just”? Those lessons from the past don’t serve me anymore.

Nothing wrong with “wonder,” but it’s time to stand up.

In the comments below, let me know if you changed your word or how it’s showing up in your life.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist, whose book “Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art,” is coming out in July.

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.