Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Motivation...Simple ways to stay motivated and reach our goals

  • What is motivation?
  • How do we get motivated?
  • How do we stay motivated?

It dawned on me that for very obvious reasons I do not have this Motivation thing squared down to a T. Then again, who does?
Following what appear to be several weeks of hiatus (let's be real, I may have to count in years instead), I found myself caught up with the usual assortment of mundane distractions, unnecessary drama and other duties. In the end, every single interruption was shamelessly used, by me, as an excuse NOT to perform or stay on track with my goals. I believe that we all have been there at some point or another in our life, whereby we start something good for ourselves only to see our motivation level somehow wither along the way, sometimes much sooner than expected, only to repeat the same cycle over and over.

Like many other times before, I now find myself with the grueling task of having to pick up where I left off, and perhaps having to work “double hard” on undoing some of the usual self-destructive behaviors I have historically relied upon as escape and coping devices. Though the list of such sneaky bad habits is endless, weight gain, unfinished projects and the overall feeling of an unaccomplished life do come to mind.

Somewhere along the line, there was an attempt at doing things right as I did join my local gym and managed to go everyday on week one, 5 days on week two but not at all afterwards! So, and in light of yet another major fail on my part, I have decided to spend some time learning about Motivation: what motivates us, how do we find motivation, keep it and sometimes pass it on and inspire others.
I am hoping My Great Challenge readers will find this article interesting as I have come up with one equation as well as a series of rules to define and lead to success.

What is motivation?
Here is a simple definition from Wikipedia (serious research was involved here!):

“Motivation is a term that refers to a process that elicits, controls, and sustains certain behaviors. Motivation is a group of phenomena which affect the nature of an individual's behavior, the strength of the behavior, and the persistence of the behavior”.
Elicit=Create.  Control=Abstain from. Sustain=Maintain.

In my case, I am looking for the motivation to start taking better care of my health and finally see projects through their completion, control those behaviors that have proven over and over to be counterproductive and at times self-destructive and of course, sustain the effort by maintaining an optimal health level and picking projects I can actually complete along the way! For others, it could be anything from quitting smoking to leaving a dead-end job in search of a better one, or the motivation to be a better parent, cleaner house, spending more time with loved ones, saving for retirement etc. No matter your goal, I find the following principles propelling motivation to be equally effective.
Obviously Motivation comes from a force leading us to behave a particular way, hoping to obtain a specific result. We can be motivated to either do good or bad things to ourselves and others.
There is also the motivation to do nothing; We call it the status quo but  “not to decide is to decide”, so the next time you choose to put something on hold as a way of avoiding making a decision altogether, know that you are actually deciding in favor of the Status Quo. Unfortunately too many of us choose this option not to change at all, waking up years later wondering what happened to our lives.
I find these Status Quo decisions to be the most costly on all fronts, whether they cost us our health (not taking care of ourselves), our spirit (not paying attention to essential emotional needs such as love and being loved) or financially (procrastinating on repairs, better employment, credit card debt etc.) The force behind such decision to do nothing is usually wrapped around a veil of universal excuses in the like of “I am too old for this”, “It’s too late”, “this is not for me”, “I don’t have the time”, “I don’t have the money”, “I’m not smart enough”, “People will laugh”, “It’s just too hard”,  “I may lose everything”, "I have other priorities", “I can’t…”  Ad nauseam.
I find it amazing how creative I can be in finding just the right excuse/distraction not to do something  I need to do and if you spend some time listening to your own inner dialogues, you too will find a catalog of excuses you tend to use on an ongoing basis, my most reliable excuse to not follow through with some of my goals is
“I know I can totally nail this!  I can get to it later.  I work best under pressure”.

It’s just plain foolish over-confidence on my part! I have used this excuse since my college days and just like the slot machine, all it took was one win to get me hooked: in this case, one final paper written the night prior to its submission, later returned to me with a big red A+ marked on the top! That final paper sealed the deal for me and I have since learned or rather convinced myself that I indeed, work best under pressure!  The truth is that I don’t even know what it would be like to NOT work under pressure and the result of such excuse is always the same: beating myself up for having procrastinated for so long and suffering dire consequences as a result. It appears that, in the end, my over confidence always leads me to feel shame and embarrassment. So, here is Rule #1: NO MORE EXCUSES!

Motivation as a dynamic force:

Motivation, unlike status quo, is a dynamic force: it changes over time and by virtue of being dynamic,  also varies in intensity, sometimes from one day to the other. The force I mention above can also be characterized as either coming from within (Intrinsic) or from outside of ourselves (Extrinsic).
The best example I can provide to illustrate this point is that of the dreaded diet. Why do we go on diets? Though there is an obvious health concern (the doctor says so), sometimes we are just more concerned with aesthetics (looking good) and society’ standards (looking acceptable).

Let’s just say that my best friend Kate is getting married 5 weeks from now. I have known about the wedding for over a year but chose “status quo” instead and procrastinated losing the 25 lbs that I wanted to lose before her wedding. Feeling the pressure of the impending main event, I now have 5 weeks to lose the 25 lbs. It is of course a tall order, but in my peanut sized brain, I really believe that I can knock off those 25 lbs in 5 weeks! So sure enough I start on this drastic diet whereby I pretty much starve myself and while I manage to sustain day 1 through 3, guess what happens on the fourth day? I quit! “Who’s Kate anyway?” I say, “I’ll just show up as is, after all it is HER wedding, no one will look at me!” And on and on I go with the excuses.  Further, since I have made a “feel good” decision (that of no longer suffering through self-imposed starvation) I congratulate myself with a large bowl of Blue Bunny Red Velvet Cake Ice Cream and celebrate my newly found freedom from diet slavery! Five weeks later I show up at Kate’s wedding with an additional 3 lbs. I now have 28 to lose!  Repeat cycle. Sounds familiar?
The issue here is that I was only motivated to lose weight because of a force outside of myself (Kate’s wedding) and not because I wanted to lose weight for my health and personal well-being. I did not want to lose weight more than I had wanted anything else in my life. And here lies one of the basic principles of motivation.  Rule #2: YOU HAVE TO WANT TO CHANGE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE YOU HAVE EVER WANTED.
In order to be successful in achieving our goals, we must tap into what is called INTRINSIC MOTIVATION, or motivation from within ourselves, not just from outside of ourselves. We have to want to change and not only understand but also accept that WE MUST change. This is the only thinking and belief that will lead you (and me) to success, be it saving money: “I must cut spending and save money” or exercise:  “I must go to the gym and get back in shape”.
Though it all makes sense, I have found that when one is severely depressed or suffers from low self-esteem, finding reasons from within ourselves to make positive changes can become a bit of a challenge.
Therefore, a healthy mix of both types of motivation (Intrinsic and Extrinsic) can help us sustain our journey towards achievement. Sometimes, it is perfectly okay to move from an external to an internal source of motivation (hence the reason  why some highly motivated folks find it necessary and inspiring to create vision boards ). Again, using the example of the weight loss, one could say “I want to lose weight because I need to have my health under control and feel good about myself(Intrinsic Motivation). I also want to be there for my kids and my spouse (Extrinsic Motivation)”. 1 out of 2 is not good enough, you need both! Rule #3: FIND BOTH INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC REASONS TO CHANGE. 

Be Specific:
While anyone can set goals for themselves (they say that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”), if your goal is just too vague such as “I need to save money”, adding specifics to your goals will make them more achievable.
I also find that the language (and attitude) we use when setting goals can also lead to self-sabotage. If I say to myself “I need to…” It is a guarantee that I will find reasons that I actually “do not need to”. Instead, If I identify my goal as an INTENTION  rather than a direction (I need vs. I will) I have added one more dynamic to the equation:

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivation + Intention

Here are a few examples of specific intentions:
Instead of this goal
Choose this specific intention
I need to save money
I will put $100 aside every week into a savings account I cannot withdraw from.
I need to cut spending
I will only shop for xyz once per month and always ask this series of question: Do I really want it? Can I wait? Do I really need it? Can I get it for cheaper? Etc.
I need to lose 25 28 lbs.
I will lose no more than 2.5 lbs. per week up to the 28 lbs. I want to lose, no matter how long it takes.
I need to go to the gym
I will go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday no matter the weather.

Goals should also follow the SMART principle: Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Timely (November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran). For more on SMART goals, I recommend you read Attitude is Everything, by Jeff Keller:

Get it here!

A budget for instance is not about simply saying “I need to stay within the budget”. It is about accounting for every single dollar you anticipate earning before you even spend the first one! Dave Ramsey did a great job teaching us about budgeting and I strongly recommend you either read or listen to his Total Money Makeover.

Must Read

(Both books and many more are available in my
Amazon Store).
In addition to an amount, your goal should also specify a timeframe and remain within reason. For instance, if your spending habits are out of control and bills stacked ceiling high, a goal of saving 33% of your income on a monthly basis may be measurable, specific and timely, it is just not achievable.!
The idea here is that instead of a draconian “I need to”; you  would replace the “order” or cruel and severe obligation (no one likes those) with a more positive intention complete with specific instructions as to how to achieve it. Rule #4: LIVE YOUR LIFE THROUGH ACHIEVABLE AND SPECIFIC INTENTIONS, NOT CRUEL AND SEVERE OBLIGATIONS YOU WILL GROW TO RESENT AND QUICKLY ABANDON. 
Now that you have both an internal and an external reason to change and have agreed that you want to change more than anything else you have ever wanted and have specific intentions as to how to change, there remains an important, if not the most important element of the equation: sustaining the effort!
How to stay motivated?

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivation

+ Intention

+ Discipline



“The ability to motivate oneself in spite of a negative emotional state” is called discipline and “qualities associated with self-discipline include Willpower, Hard Work, and Persistence” (Wikipedia).
Here is my husband’s very own definition of discipline (he should know, he spent 4 years in the Navy and is by far the most disciplined individual I have even met):
“Discipline is the art of doing something you do not like, over and over, with perfection” 
And THAT is solely an intrinsic force!
A trainer can beat you into the ground to get you to lose weight and go to the gym, but once he or she is gone and out of the picture, can you keep doing it on your own? Going back to money matters, how many folks do you know have claimed bankruptcy because of their overspending and excessive habits?  Did they eventually get back on their feet only to find themselves in more debt 5 years later?Over the years I must have lost hundreds of pounds through various diets. I have not once managed to keep the weight off for more than one year. Why? I lacked discipline! Plain and simple.
Having done a bit of research on the subject, I found some valuable hints and tips on how to develop and practice self-discipline and surprise! It all comes down to “wax on/wax off”!
I found that one will not, nor can he or she manage a huge project or endeavor without having practiced, to a minimum, the basic skills needed to accomplish that goal.

For example, you may decide you are going to save $200 per month but if you can’t figure out a way to even save the first $20, how will you ever manage $200?
The same principle applies to eating and dieting: you may have this grand goal of losing 30 Lbs but if you can’t start by changing your grocery list, the content of your pantry and making better choices when dining out, you will continue to live in perpetual disappointment over yo-yo dieting.
Discipline is not something you are born with, it is something you acquire OVER TIME. It takes practice and it takes all the other elements highlighted above: Willpower, Hard Work and Persistence.

I need to stress HARD WORK because that is usually the one stopping many from starting anything worth the effort: "it will be hard!" As Dave Ramsey often says “change does not have to be complicated, but it will be hard work”. That is a fact, so let’s get over this: diets suck, exercising takes forever, saving money means you no longer buy non essential items and finding another job means you and your resume will be rejected plenty of times and yes, it will hurt! So there, now get moving! Rule #5: EXPECT TO SASCRIFE, TO BE BURT, AND ABOVE ALL EXPECT A FEW SETBACKS ALONG THE WAY.

How to practice self-discipline?

By making "small" steps that are easily achievable, you will begin to build self-esteem and create routines in your life as well as an environment where small successes can begin to contribute to bigger ones (similarly a river needs contributaries to grow). Once your life is surrounded by these small and readily noticeable achievements, making an effort towards another and bigger goal becomes easier because you have progressively eliminated all the other distractions (procrastinations) and negative influences surrounding you.

Here is an idea:

1. List 10 things you have procrastinated doing around the house this past year (it does not have to cost you anything e.g. de-clutter the kitchen drawers, file tax documents in filing cabinet, clean the dryer vent, garage sale etc.)

2. Check ALL 10 items off, one per day, one day at a time. (No excuse. Just do it!)

3. Pay attention to how you feel after 10 days!

You may ask how can de-cluttering a kitchen drawer or purging a closet be related to achieving your ultimate goals? Very simply, these small achievements prepare you for success. If you have never run in your life you would not think of registering for the New York City Marathon as your first attempt at running, instead you would probably start with walking, then running small distances to first build endurance.By the same token, if emotional hoarding (being burdened by specific recurring thoughts and feelings) has become an issue in your life, perhaps you need to tackle your physical clutter first.
During my last closet purge I found that I was hanging on to a lot of unnecessary stuff, most of which was no longer relevant in my current life. By getting rid of that clutter I was able to create valuable space around me which had a positive side effect: that of allowing me to breathe better (literally) as well as to see clearer around me. That in itself is helping me find the time and mental space to write this article as well as other things.  It is all related, just like learning Karate by first learning to take the wax off your car!
Other ways to practice self-discipline:

  1. Schedule your work day and home duties with precision. This means you also have to schedule relaxation and iddle time. Facebook and other social networks are time suckers, schedule a limited amount of time and shut the PC off when time is up.
  2. Schedule small tasks for specific times during the day (e.g. wipe counter top at bed time).
  3. Find and designate "Psychological Nudges" (have someone check on you, be accountable to a group or a specific person for specific tasks).

Learn from your mistakes – Those who forget are doomed to repeat.
Expect that establishing self-discipline and routine will take time and we should learn to anticipate and accept mistakes and small setbacks.  More importantly, spending the time to analyze where we fell short will provide opportunities to anticipate and act accordingly in the future. For instance, when confronted with a diet setback, learn to look at the situation and find the trigger(s) that led to the setback. 
Here is a common scenario: You are watching your food intake (fancy way to say “diet”) and a management meeting at work leaves a conference room with tons of leftovers in the likes of bagels, pastries, cookies etc. FREE! It would be so easy to just walk in, take a plate and load up on the favorites.

1. Are you really hungry? (Is hunger the trigger? If so, always have healthy snacks at work, munch on that instead)
2. Are you just bored? (If you snack out of boredom, how about cleaning your desk instead?)
3. What happened the last time you helped yourself to freebies in the conference room? If guilt overcame you afterwards, learn from it and keep it moving! Guilt is no longer an option chose willpower and pride instead.

Here is the equation again:

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivation

+ Intention

 + Discipline



And here are the rules:






How to stay motivated?

Diets get boring, so does exercise. Home chores, well, they just get to become routine and no one really likes to feel like a robot.

Quick change:
One way to stay motivated is to keep the process dynamic by re-evaluating progress on a regular basis and making changes and adjustments as needed. Just like fashion and food, there are fads and there are trends. Why? They basically mirror our capacity to change as well as our need for change. Though Self-Discipline requires you continue to do the same thing over and over, you may not have to do it the same way each time. Some folks would listen to music while cleaning, others start eating breakfast at dinner time, why not? Ultimately, you know yourself better than anyone else, listen to your own tune and if you find yourself getting bored, it’s time for a change since boredom is a motivation sapper!
Another way to stay motivated is to share your success and failures with others. You can blog, post, write, text, sing it, whatever medium you want to use. Just share with others. That also counts as a Psychological Nudge since many well-wishers will want to know what’s next for you and how well you are doing. In this case, make yourself accountable to your audience, your fan club, your family!

I hope you found this tidbit on motivation, “motivating” (pun intended). I know I needed to revisit some of these concepts myself and hopefully will get on the right path and stick to it. Standby for more and as always, feedback and comments are greatly appreciated.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Organizing Kids Clothes - Closet Challenge

I will confess that Scott has been in charge of the laundry for many years. There is a reason for that and I guess it started with the very awkward location of the laundry room back in the days...One had to actually leave the house, go outside to the side shed/storage room to access the laundry...Imagine two sets of stairs plus rain,  plus winter cold, plus carrying the hamper...Yep, that was a man's job and it pretty much stayed that way over the years. It also helps that he particularly enjoys the task...Go figure!

This pretty convenient state of affair does have a few drawbacks though: For one, I have been out of the loop when it comes to clothing sizes (what fits and no longer fits); Scott is also the one taking care of the boys before they go to school since I leave the house early in order to be the one picking them up at night...Leaving him entirely responsible for choosing outfits etc. (You may roll your eyes now).
The other day I could not help noticing that our little guy was very obviously wearing a size or two too small, not to mention the mismatched colors and frabrics...Ok, I said, time to step in and this is what I found (I once read  that bloggers need to be truthful about what their home really looks like and one cannot get any more transparent than this):

Yep! That was my boys' closet on Friday night!

At the bottom, we have  the entire contents of a plastic bag full of used flannel pajamas I once destined for donations. Apparently one of the boys (they won't say who) went in there and pulled every thing out, of course leaving it all on the floor, in hope of finding an Angry Bird T-shirt that was, of course, nowhere near this specific location!
The rest is the usual assortment found around my house, many attempts at staying on top of things but never trully sticking with any of them. William was also nice enough to leave the bathing suit drawer open.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned here:

1. Boys, no matter the age, are incapable of sensing disorder, never mind putting things back where they belong.
2. A 5 years old cares about his clothes just as much as his 10 year old brother cares about girl stuff.
3. Neither of them will ever take responsibility for this mess.
4. I spend way too much time decorating and moving stuff around the house and not enough time taking care of the essential, lets start with the kids' clothes.

So, with a plan in mind, I have decided to take on new challenges: that of decluttering one area at a time and have it all compiled into a blog series...This is


I am certain this task will be more difficult for those of you who have more than two children, or children of different genders. However, the principle of de-cluttering and reorganizing can be generalized and I am hoping any one will find some good ideas.


I emptied the entire closet and made FIVE piles:

Pile #1: Edward  Keep Pile.
Pile #2: William  Keep Pile.
Pile #3: For Sale Items (Too small for William - Generally sizes 24M to 3T).
Pile #4: Trash (Clothes that are just too shabby and/or stained).
Pile #5: Pass Me Down Pile (Edward Clothes to keep for William).

One of the biggest concern was what to do with the really cute outfits they can no longer wear. In the past, I had kept all of Edward's clothes, which served us well since William had plenty pass me downs to wear. However, the method was really about my being overly sentimental. I have hung on to a lot of stuff over the years, thinking that perhaps they would be glad to have these items for their own kids. Really? There is no guarantee that the clothes, no matter how well I keep them would actually last another 20 or so years in storage, never mind future daughters-in-law raised eyebrows at the sight of old washed out t-shirts!
So this is what I did, and THAT was a major step for me: those items I really wanted to keep I would keep under two conditions, and two conditions only :

1. They are seen in a really cute/favorite picture or are attached to an important memory.
2. They can be cut (e.g. front of a designed T-Shirt) and used to make a memory quilt.

That method worked as it allowed me to let go of a lot of items that did not fit either condition 1 or 2.


Sort and fold those items I plan on selling. My intention is to donate everything that does not sell.

Here is the For Sale Pile:

I folded all the items as neatly as possible, stacked them in categories (short sleeve, long sleeve, etc.) and stored them in a large plastic container - they are ready for the garage sale.


Sort out the pile of clothes too small for Edward and too big for William (all the sizes 6 to 8-10).
Every Pass-Me-Down item was placed in cardboard boxes on top shelves.


Categorize and fold all the "keeper" items. I decided to keep one side of the closet for William and the opposite side for Edward.

Here are the categories which I labeled by simply folding a sheet of white paper  and placing it under each pile:

Short Sleeve Shirts
Long Sleeve Shirts
Dress Pants
Pajama Tops
Pajama Bottoms

All "collar" shirts are placed on hangers. I have belts and caps hanging from hooks as well.

William's Shirts are hanging in this closet, while Edward's are kept in the armoire which is too small to contain his entire wardrobe.

Placing labels under each pile makes it easier for Scott to file clothes back into the closet after a completed load of laundry. The boys can also easily find whatever article of clothing they are supposed to wear on any given day.

Here is the closet in its final stage:

 And a view of Edward's armoire with the closet behind it...

And that is how I came to realize that Edward does not have one single short sleeve shirt, polo or pair of shorts! I should be given the Most Out of It - Mother of the Year - Award!


More important than any of the work and painstaking folding I endured here, I plan on keeping this closet in tip-top shape, and for that I need the boys cooperation.
Step Five consisted of a 20 minute session with my boys on understanding why things are categorized and learning to fold and put back clothes that may fall off the shelves!

Here is the before and after:

I realize this is not the most dramatic before and after you have ever seen, but it did take over 5 hours to sort all the clothes and what a lesson was learned here: apart from the humility it takes to showcase yet another "fail" on my part, finding out I had not a clue the clothes issue was getting THAT out of control was a real eye opener for me!

Friday, June 1, 2012

French Lentil Stew - Moroccan style

French Lentils, or any lentils actually, I consider to be SUPER FOOD!  Lentils have been around for a long time (they were the first crop to be domesticated) and there is a reason for that, just like Quinoa, they are protein packed (30% per serving, to be exact). They are also super charged with fiber, Vitamin B1, Folate and minerals (36 % iron per serving cup).               
So if you are iron deficient and are trying to cut on meat - Lentils could very well be your new best friend!

 Copyright from Miller's Grain House

That said, I would not recommend you purchase canned lentils as they are often times too soft, over cooked and loaded with preservatives and salt.
Lentils are easy to prepare and cheap to purchase - I bought my French Lentils by the pound at Whole Foods, but you can easily find them bagged or boxed at your local supermarket.

There are many varieties of lentils, the French ones are green and dark gray, but there are also orange, yellow or red varieties (I have never tried those).

You can find out more about Lentils and their nutritional value on the World's Healthiest Foods website.

My lentil stew takes less than 40 minutes to prepare and cook, most of the time goes towards cooking. I would estimate 10 minutes for preparation.


3 cups French Lentils
1 large onion (chopped)
2 Celery stalks
2 Green Onions (chopped)
4 Carrots (diced)
1/3 Large can of Crushed Tomatoes
3 Bay leaves
2 Tblsp Moroccan Tajine Spices Blend 
1 Can of Low Sodium Chicken Broth (not shown)
1 1/2 tblsp olive oil

My spice blend came directly from Morocco, however, it is not difficult to put together yourself, all you need is paprika, coriander, cumin, ginger, turmeric, pepper, and salt mixed together.


Pre-soak the lentils in hot water for about 15 to 20 minutes or the time it will take you to prepare all the other ingredients. I usually soak them in a large pot with about 5 inches worth of water over them since they do tend to soak up a lot of water.
Once they are soaked, rinse the lentils under warm water to wash away dirt or small rocks. If you see broken lentils (split etc) floating around, remove them.

Chop onions, celery, carrots, green onions and add to a large skillet with the olive oil and Bay leaves.

Stir in 2 tblsp of the Tajine Spice blend and continue cooking (cover if you wish) until the onions appear soft and have taken on some of the spices' color.

Add the lentils and mix well.

Add one can of Chicken Broth and follow with one can of water.

Add the Crushed Tomatoes ( I am only adding 1/3 of a cup but you most certainly can add more to your taste).

Stir well and cover. Reduce heat to medium to low and let simmer for about 30 minutes. You may stir occasionally and taste to check on consistency and crunchiness of Lentils. They should not be mushy.

I usually serve my Lentils in a bowl, as though a soup but use a slotted spoon to drain some of the broth. I also add some chopped fresh mint and serve with fresh grapes on the side.

 This is a delicious, easy to prepare, not to mention healthy dish. It keeps well for a few days in the fridge and left-overs could be frozen, though I prefer mine fresh. Lentils make for an awesome side, though this stew can be a meal on its own!

Meat eaters can add Lamb Chops or Grilled Chicken...Enjoy!

Let me know what you think of this recipe and don't hesitate to share a link to your own recipe in the comments section.

Thank you.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pin It button on image hover