Beware the Bait and Switch


Yesterday, I finished a draft of a book. The project had a tight deadline and required my full concentration. Finishing was a big deal––a cause for true celebration. So, what happened the minute I reached my goal? My mind leapt to all the other things, you know, all those things I hadn’t been doing because I’d been concentrating on the book.

Fortunately, I caught myself in the middle of my “yes, but” thinking, and I remembered to stop, to celebrate what I HAD done, rather than focusing on all that I hadn’t finished. I don’t always catch myself, though.

In fact, I do this kind of bait and switch thing all the time. Here’s how it goes.

  1.  I set a goal for my day.
  2. Sometimes, the goal is reasonable and I reach it.
  3. If I do reach my goal, total amnesia sets in about the agreement I made with myself.
  4. As I close my eyes to go to sleep, I scold myself for the laundry list of other things that are still undone.

Sound familiar?

The trouble is there are ALWAYS more things to do. Emails are always arriving in your inbox. Your laundry is being worn and becoming dirty. Your body is burning up the calories from your last meal and soon it will be time to shop for groceries and cook again. Don’t get me started on the dishes. Your dog is splashing around in mud puddles and tracking dirt into the house and your cat is shedding. Dust-bunnies are gathering. One assignment is done, and the next shows up.

It’s kind of funny––the way we demand the impossible of ourselves––but it’s also not funny at all. Because what’s really going on here is that we’re breaking trust with ourselves. We’re wearing down that strong inner muscle that allows us to achieve goals in the first place. Think about how it would work with a child. We ask the child to make their bed, and then when they proudly present their neatly-made bed, we point out their mid-process art project strewn across the desk. “Why didn’t you clean those up?” Because they were busy making the bed! 

How motivated is that child going to be next time we ask them to make their bed?

We break trust with ourselves when we set one goal and score ourselves on another.

Too much broken trust, and I feel lackluster, ho-hum, meh. I can’t drum up the energy to reach for another goal. Of course I can’t. I’ve taught myself there will be no joy in the achieving of that goal. All there will be is more work. To me, that sounds like a recipe for a meaningless trudge through life.

So, today, I’m thinking about my trust-muscle, and how to develop it. How can I celebrate what has been done? How can I learn with my heart (not just my head) that when I’m doing one thing, that means I’m not doing any of the others? And how can I create systems that help me adjust and rebalance quickly after I’ve blocked out the world to reach for a really important goal?

One way I do this is to think about the six main areas of my life: core, commitment, creativity, connection, cultivation and casting dreams. I wrote about them a while back, and will probably write about them more soon. For now, maybe I’ll figure out a way to celebrate by investing time and attention in one or two of the areas that hasn’t been tended for a while. Maybe I can spend some time with a friend (connection) and make something just for the fun of it (creativity). Yep, that sounds like an excellent way to celebrate.

How about you? Have you baited and switched on yourself recently? What might you do to re-build some inner trust?

What Can Be Done in a Week?

week-longA week is both longer and shorter than you think.

If you’re anything like me, you might set out on a Monday to do a laundry list of things, thinking that by Friday you’ll surely have time to complete them. Come Friday, you review the list and ugh! At least half of it remains.

As I was considering this sad state of affairs this past weekend, I noticed something interesting. While many boxes on my to-do list weren’t checked off, during the week I’d had a collection of small, interesting encounters. These encounters had started to shift things in my larger world. In fact, some challenged I’d have expected to work on for the rest of the year now had solutions right around the corner.

Which led me to ask myself: Is my to-do list full of the wrong things?

If PEOPLE can cause challenges to untangle, maybe I should spend more time making myself available. Maybe all that time spent on sorting, handling, drafting, researching, planning … maybe it could all be a little less important, if I only made myself more available.

Now, I’m sure that aimless availability wouldn’t have been helpful. But, since I’d spent a good amount of time in December thinking about my big-picture goals, this week, I was primed to pay attention to those things which might make the most big-picture difference.

Here’s a recipe for making progress that I plan to explore. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  1. Review my goals on Friday, note any progress over the week.
  2. Identify the chief obstacles. Right now, what’s immediately in the way? What do I need next?
  3. In relation to those needs and obstacles, think about the people around me. Consider the resources available through friends, co-workers, newcomers who have been suggested to me or who have just crossed my path. Or even online experts–bloggers, podcasters, and more.
  4. Decide: Who might I reach out to this week? Where might I go this week to encounter someone who just may have a new idea or solution for me?


When I go somewhere new or discuss a problem with a new person, I often find that creative doors and windows are thrown open. Solutions I didn’t expect alight on my shoulders with hardly any effort on my part. It almost feels like cheating. Except, it isn’t. I’m getting out of my own way, looking past my all important to-do list, and realizing that most of the time, the solution is closer than we think. All we have to do is ask.

So, that’s what I’m going to do. A whole lot more asking. Because I may not be able to check off all those to-dos in a week, but if I can ask the right question and toss most of those boxes off my list … well, I’d do that in a heartbeat!

How about you?

Story Matters

Stories matter.Do stories matter? When I come up against this question, I feel like I’m trying to defend an immutable law of nature, such as, say … gravity. I do that defensive thing and throw out a bunch of words about connection and empathy and imagination, my voice rising with passion. All the while, the person across from me nods and then says something along the lines of, “Yes, but in practical terms …” or “What will get her into college …” or “Where we need to spend our time is …”

What breaks my heart is the reply I hear most often: That’s great for you, but I’m not a writer.

The more I think about this commonly held belief, the more it bothers me.

Being able to shape a story is like having a superpower. Unlike most superpowers, this power is completely accessible to anyone willing to learn. How can so many people–the majority of people–believe that writing is for other (more creative) people?

Here’s what story-telling gives you the power to do:

  • Make someone laugh
  • Enchant someone, or a group of someones
  • Cause someone to feel what you feel
  • Change someone’s mind, belief system, or actions
  • Find a pattern of meaning in your own experiences
  • Change your own actions so you can live a more meaningful story

The list could go on and on. The trouble is, this powerful tool dresses itself in whimsy. Stories are so … fun. We consume them for entertainment. It’s so very easy to become convinced that nearly everything else is more important.

Is everything else more important?

Stories connect us, one heart to another. Whether we’re telling real-life narratives or shaping fiction, stories come from our lived experience. When we tell stories, we slow down long enough to pay attention. We find words to express what we see, what we feel, what we believe. We see where change may be needed, and what we can do to effect that change. Rather than an endless stream of experiences, we see that our lives have meaning.

Your life has meaning.

Don’t miss that crucial, beautiful discovery, just because someone told you that you didn’t have writing “skill.” We’re all story-tellers … we live in the midst of a cacophony of stories. Ours and those of everyone around us.

I’m on a mission, friends. I don’t want anyone to get lost in the foggy mess of life. I want to shout this truth from the rooftops: We all live stories–stories full of potential and challenges and victories. Just like any character in a story, our decisions matter. Every single one matters. What decisions will you make?

Some of you already do a lot of writing, but some of you do not. If you’re one of those who does not, would you do one thing for me? Think about a recent life experience. Break it into simple parts: beginning, middle and end. Was there a problem in it, or a challenge? Was any lesson learned? If you had to put the meaning of that experience into a sentence or two, what would it be? Now, set a timer for just five minutes and write that story.

If you are so inclined, share with me how the writing went. I’d love to help and support you on your creative journey.

P.S. I love this video on why stories matter.

Are You an Idea Hoarder?

Idea Hoarder

A round peg shoving myself into a square hole. Often, I feel that way. How about you?

So much helpful advice is flying around out there. Everyone, from your plumber to your online business coach, agrees that to be relevant, you need to provide strategies and resources. We tune in, and if you’re like me, you start hopping from one thing to the next. Ooh, you think, this blog post will help me solve my organization problem … oh, and ooh! This podcast will teach me to be fun and catch followers on Instagram … oh, and wow! This online course will teach me to slow down and pay attention to what’s important … and on and on it goes.

I wonder: When was the last time you listened to your OWN advice?

I’ve been struggling with a paradox for the last year or so. I long to help people tap into their creativity by encouraging them to play more, to strive less. And yet, I dread becoming another noisy distraction. I want to amplify YOUR voice, not drown it out with mine. These clashing desires have caused me to fuss about behind the scenes, trying to figure out what to say, what not to say, when to share and when to stay silent.

Recently, I pulled together a group of writer and illustrator friends  for a test-run of a marketing mastermind. We called it “marketing” but honestly, I was focused on a deeper issue that I’ve wrangled mentally for as long as I can remember. Let’s call it “life strategy for creatives.” Or, as I think about it: living as an artist.

TIME OUT for a moment. When I use the word “creative” or “artist,” I don’t mean only those people who have paint under their fingernails. I mean anyone who allows creativity to take the lead in their lives, be they stay-at-home parents, entrepreneurs, coffee roasters, chefs, musicians, master gardeners, strategists … you get the idea. If your primary role takes creative thinking and a commitment to your passion, in my book, you’re living as an artist.

TIME IN. Maybe you heard the well-meaning advice sometime along the way too: You can’t make a living doing that! My response was: I’ll have to, because that’s what I’m made to do. Faced with two options–finding a way to live as an artist or starving–I decided to tackle the life strategy issue. Growth happened in small increments, and I still faced huge bumps in the road. I had no idea that I had actually developed an expertise.

So, at our test-run meeting, I looked around the table at my friends, all of who have their own unique processes and none of whom would fit into a square hole. All of them are on their journeys, and none need “fixing,” yet they all desire solutions, too. Like me, they want to live as artists. And that’s when I realized … All that fussing about keeping out of the way was also keeping me from helping. I had a treasure hoard of gifts that I wasn’t sharing.

Hoarding is definitely not my style. So, here’s what I’ve decided.

  1. I’m going to stop fussing and start sharing.
  2. I’m going to trust you to make your own choices about when my voice is helpful and when you need to tune me out to make room for your own voice.
  3. I’m going to allow myself room to be on the journey, too. Sometimes I’ll have practical advice and other times, I may only have a question I’m starting to explore.
  4. I’m going to believe that showing up authentically, wherever that happens to be, is enough.


If it’s true for me, I bet it’s true for a lot of you, too. What are you fussing over or hoarding? You don’t have to package it up perfectly. Find a way to share, and trust us to approach your ideas with our own creativity.

Manage your Classroom for Play

Sometimes having fun in class is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. How do we strike the balance between making sure our students are having a blast, and maintaining a productive work environment? The key is filling up our educator tool-boxes so we’re prepared with classroom management when things begin to spin out of control.

Learn more about classroom management for Writerly Play in Writerly Play: Transform Your Teaching with Game-Based Strategies and Tools.

Host Writerly Conversations

Play opens up new possibilities in our storytelling. But how do we make the leap from play to paper? Two important kinds of writerly conversation bridge between play and writing. First, we host modeling conversations with the full class, in which we as facilitators think aloud as we connect the dots. Also, we individualize the learning through personalized conversations with our students writer-to-writer. These conferring sessions help students apply the general concepts from the day to their unique projects.

Explore strategies for conferring in Writerly Play: Transform Your Teaching with Game-Based Strategies and Tools.

Set Up Your Classroom for Writerly Play

The first day of any new writing class can be daunting. There’s a lot to think about. Maybe you have a new group of students to get to know, or you are introducing a curriculum that’s new even to you. The first day is a chance to establish guidelines, rules, and relationships, as well as get your students excited about the lessons to come.

Learn more about setting up your classroom for Writerly Play in Writerly Play: Transform Your Teaching with Game Based Strategies and Tools.

Playlist: Featuring Habit List



Object: Taking Care of the Essentials First with Habit List

What Didn’t Work: Judging my day by an always-moving measuring stick. Running my moment-to-moment work based on whatever happened to be in my inbox in the morning. Making progress on projects that could be finished in a sprint but losing track of the small, daily actions that add up to something.

My Aha! Moment: I realized that while my to-do list was great for many things, it wasn’t the right place for those daily tasks that needed tending daily. Repeating tasks would show up in the midst of everything else (the urgent and not-so urgent) until I was numb to it all.

How I Play:
  • I assign tasks to the days they need doing. I order the tasks in the order they need to be done.
  • I use the feature that allows me to schedule certain tasks for once a week or once a month, so that they show up on whatever schedule applies.
  • I use the list first thing in the morning to tick through the essentials, before digging into email and the many variables of the day.
Player’s Notes:
  • Make sure not to include negotiable items in your Habit List. The list needs firm edges. Either it must happen before going on to the next item on the list, or it doesn’t need to. I use another app for those tasks about which I can be more flexible.
  • That said, I don’t just have chores on my Habit List. If I did, I’d completely resist the list. Items that I feel are important to my creative health or interpersonal relationships are on the list alongside items such as “floss.”

Take it to the Next Level:
  • Treat the Habit List as a process in revision. It’s important to review and see what’s on the list and isn’t getting done. The app tracks how long you’ve missed a task based on your proposed schedule. When something falls behind, ask yourself: Is this not a key activity for this season? Do I need to change something to make it more possible to complete this action?
  • Remember that habits can take 30, 60 or even more days to establish. Let yourself be in process, despite of the firm edges of your list. You will learn what’s actually essential, what can be dropped off the list, what obstacles are in your way, and how to be more successful as you go along. Schedule a monthly review to examine whether you need to make changes and to assess your progress.


NOTE: Habit List is the app I use, but there are a lot of similar apps on the market. Choose the one that works best and is most visually appealing to you. The more you like to interact with this app, the more likely you are to use it on a daily basis.

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