Today is the last day of my first trimester of “somedays”. I’ve finished four months and it’s time to grade my progress.
Month 1 – Write and publish a non-fiction book in 30 days. Grade: Incomplete
Even though I didn’t finish this project in the time allotted, I’m not going to give myself a failing grade. I am still working on the project and it will get done, so “incomplete” seems a more fitting grade than “fail”.
Month 2 – Begin a meditation practice. Grade: B
I’m meditating almost daily, but most of my meditation practice is now walking meditation. I like walking meditation, but I also think sitting meditation has its benefits. In order to receive an “A” grade I need to work more sitting meditation into my practice.
Month 3 – Begin 1200-mile Club challenge. Grade: A+
The goal is to walk or run 1200 miles this calendar year. I worked that out to 4 miles per day, 6 days per week. As of yesterday I have walked and run 227 miles putting me 27 miles ahead of my goal pace.
Month 4 – Learn Italian. Grade: F
I’m beginning to think there are some “somedays” which should remain a goal for some other day. Or, perhaps, they should be set aside with the realization that it just ain’t gonna happen. Italian may be that type of “someday” for me. I struggled all month and I cannot even count to ten or carry on the simple get-to-know-you conversation I had set as my goal. I’m not going to get rid of the Italian language books and tools I purchased, but I’m not going to say this will be an on-going project, like writing a book. I may pick the books up again at some future date, but I will no longer say, “I’m going to learn Italian someday.”
I’m still struggling to learn Italian, but I’m already prepping for March’s gardening “someday”. Yesterday my sweet husband assembled my double composter (a much more complicated job than I anticipated) and the first batch of compost material went in.
There’s a theory about setting and reaching goals that says to not only set your goal, but make it quantifiable and also chart out the path you’ll need to take to reach the goal. As I lay in bed this morning thinking about the day ahead, I realized I have not charted a path for this month’s “someday” of learning Italian and I’m struggling to make any progress.
In November my “someday” was to write and publish a short non-fiction book. I didn’t reach my goal, but it’s still in progress and, now that I think of it, I realize I didn’t have a charted plan for how to reach it – not even so much as “write for an hour a day”. December my “someday” was to establish a meditation practice. That in itself is a plan. To establish the practice, you have to meditate – and I did (and still do). On January 1st I began a 1200-mile walking/running challenge. I calculated I would need to run/walk four miles per day, six days per week in order to reach 1200 miles by the end of the year. I set up a spreadsheet to input my miles and to calculate how far ahead or behind I am (right now I’m 20 miles ahead of plan). That’s a completely quantifiable plan. Then I came to February and my “someday” is to “learn Italian”. Really? Learn Italian? Obviously I’m not going to become fluent in a month, so what is my real goal for the month? I didn’t set one! I didn’t set a quantifiable goal and I didn’t set out a plan for how I would achieve my loosey goosey goal.
I had hoped I could “learn Italian” by listening to audiobooks during my many hours in the car. That didn’t work, so I bought a book and some grammar aids, but I still didn’t set a plan of when and how I would use them (they’ve been sitting on the counter, untouched, for a week). Now, here I am, right about halfway through the month and I realize I messed this up. I need an actual goal and a plan.
So, here we go. My goal for learning Italian will be to be able to count to ten and carry on a simple “get to know you” conversation. My plan to get there will be to set a time period for studying Italian. I’m a morning person, so I do my other practices first thing in the morning: writing, meditating, walking/running. Once I’m up and taking care of business during the day, it’s hard to stop. However, just before I go to bed, I spend time browsing social media and playing Sudoku. I can give up that routine and allocate the time to studying Italian and, research shows, sleep helps cement what you’ve learned right before bedtime. I’m going to get my Italian book off the counter and put it on my nightstand right now. I will now study Italian for at least a half-hour every weeknight. And, who knows, not using an iPad before bed might help me sleep better. Retain Italian and sleep better – this could be a double win.
This week I’ve noticed a foreign sense of calm within myself. Once I realized it, I looked back to see if I could pinpoint when it began. I can’t pinpoint a date, but I do know it’s been building for the last few weeks. I say it’s foreign because my mind is usually racing, my nerves tied up with plans and worry, and something else – perhaps a heightened negative sense of some sort. Now, my mind is still functioning, but it feels like it’s gently flowing, not racing. My nerves? I think of nerves as stress – again, flowing, not stressful. And the “something else” is now this overall sense of calm.
I wonder if this is simply a matter of aging. I’ve read that people tend to feel happier as they get older. Is this new sense of calm simply me getting older? As I read the research on this phenomenon, I really don’t think it applies to me right now. One of the reasons people tend to get happier as they age is because they lower their expectations and accept their achievements. Here I am, in the midst of my 366 Somedays tackling new goals every month, so I haven’t really lowered my expectations and accepted my past achievements as all inclusive.
I’m almost afraid to say it, but I think my new calm stems from the activities of my 366 Somedays. I think my meditation practice, especially the loving kindness meditation, is having a positive effect on me. I know daily exercise makes me feel good, but adding in the singing last week has changed my walks from exercise to a spiritual experience. And yesterday I noticed that, when I’m not singing, I’m humming and humming also has therapeutic benefits.
I hoped the challenges of my 366 Somedays would bring satisfaction, but I wasn’t expecting calm. This is another sign that stepping out and trying something new is good for us. Now, if I could just whistle. I read that whistling is also good for the body and mind. Maybe learning to whistle should be one of my “somedays”. No, let’s not push it! I’ll meditate, I’ll sing a happy song, and I’ll hum a tune, but I don’t need to also whistle while I work. Especially since, with all due respect to Lauren Bacall, there seems to be a lot more to it than “just put your lips together and blow.”
This morning I hit the internet looking for quotes on how hard it is for some people to learn languages. I learned some people’s brains communicate in a way that better facilitates learning languages. I learned (or was reminded) Italian is one of the Romance languages. That’s because it’s of Latin (Roman) origin, not having anything to do with love, though I still thinks it’s fun I chose learning a Romance language for my February “someday”. I also learned about growth and fixed mindsets (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, PhD). I didn’t read the book; I just read a synopsis. Here is an even briefer synopsis: people who have a growth mindset believe their abilities can be developed; people who have a fixed mindset believe they have a certain amount of abilities and nothing more. The example given in the article, Why Some People Find Language Learning Harder Than Others was:
For example, telling yourself that “you’re not talented at languages” and essentially doing no effort whatsoever to improve your foreign language abilities is a classic example of a fixed mindset, and it can have devastating consequences.
Hit me over the head! Was the writer talking directly to me? I don’t want to think about how many times this month I’ve said, “I’m smart, but my brain just doesn’t learn languages well.” I’ve saddled myself with a fixed mindset – so utterly not my normal modus operandi! Sure, it may be true my brain doesn’t have the language facilitating way of communicating, but that ability is just an indicator of the ease of learning a language. If your brain doesn’t communicate that way, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn the language. However, having a fixed mindset, as I’ve had – lots of negative self-talk – can be a real hindrance. So, starting today, I’m going to do what I do in other situations. I’m going to fake it till I feel it. I’m going to stop saying my ability to learn Italian is cattivo (bad); I’m going to start saying my Italian is buona (good). And, I’ll get out my new Italian for Dummies book and really start putting in some effort. Too bad the book isn’t titled, Italian for Those Who Are Willing to Work Hard – that’s a much more growth mindset title.
I was surprised yesterday morning when I woke up and realized it was already after 6:30. I’m normally up between 4:00 and 5:00, so 6:30 was sleeping in for me. Since it was so late, I decided not to do my ten-minute meditation session right then. I thought I’d do it later in the day, though I knew in my heart I probably wouldn’t. A few hours later, out on my walk, I realized I had the opportunity to practice mindfulness, making it a walking meditation. The area where I live is still covered in snow. The trails are clear in places, but I’m still wearing my cleated shoe covers. As I walked I paid attention to the sound my cleats make: click-click on the bare pavement, crack-crack on the ice, and crunch-crunch on the snow. I listened to the sound of the slight wind in my ears and the greater sound of the wind in the trees. I looked up into the trees, hoping for a porcupine, owl, eagle, or hawk sighting. I eventually shifted my walking meditation to a loving kindness meditation. Normally, I do my recitation in my head, but since I was trying something new, I said my phrases out loud. It felt good to hear myself saying the words. Then I started singing out loud.
I saw this on a friend’s Facebook page yesterday morning so, as I walked and finished up my meditation, I thought I might as well give it a try. I’m notorious for not knowing the lyrics to songs, so figuring out what to sing was a problem. I can sing along to songs on the radio because I can just mumble-mumble through the words I don’t know. Singing out loud without music and not knowing the words is a little harder. I realized while I often have a song running through my head, it’s just a portion of the song. I don’t know very many songs from beginning to end. However, from somewhere deep inside my brain, I began singing some of the songs sung regularly when I was a Camp Fire Girl some forty years ago. I sang Flicker of the Campfire and Kumbaya. Let me tell you, singing Kumbaya while walking in the snowy silence…pretty profound.
Luckily there aren’t many people out on the trails this time of year and luckily my dogs love me enough not to mind my poor singing. Like grandchildren, my dogs think my singing is wonderful. And that’s a good thing – they might just be hearing more of it.
The calendar has flipped over to a new month which means it’s time to add a new “someday” to my journey. This month I’m going to begin learning Italian in earnest. I’ve piddled around with language in the past, but it’s not something that comes easily to my brain. I’ve tried for a week or so (much like dieting), but I’ve always given up. I love Italy. I love the pace and the beauty of Italy. I love traveling in Italy. I would love to speak Italian so I can communicate better when I am there and also to keep a piece of Italy with me.
Reviewing the last three months, writing, for my blogs and in my journal, is moving along smoothly; writing my book (November’s “someday”) is lagging. However, I have been giving the book’s content a lot of thought and my writing is usually done in my brain before I even begin to put words to screen. I am meditating regularly (December’s “someday”) and feel the practice has taken hold as part of my daily routine. I am walking and/or running daily and I am ahead of plan on the 1200-mile annual challenge I started last month (118.76 miles to date). Now, it’s time to add language lessons and practice.
To begin this month’s “someday”, I’ve downloaded an Italian language program to listen to in my car. I’m in my car a lot, so that seems the most reasonable way to get started. I also joined an online language program I’ll use to supplement the audio program.