Creativity Writing
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Lower Your Expectations

I have been a walker for years. Measuring_tape_262653_l

For the past twenty years, maybe more, I've walked three times a week with my friend Sharon.  We met when our kids, then wee, were in a cooking class together, started walking, and kept up the habit ever since.  We were a familiar sight on our route around the Rose City Park golf course in northeast Portland. 

Until last year.

2009 was rough on me in many ways–my mother died, my daughter's husband got deployed to Iraq, my beloved pug died in my arms.  But it was also a year in which I saw the breakdown of lifelong habits, walking among them. 

Sharon injured her Achilles tendon, later snapping it, which resulted in painful surgery.  She and I quit walking together in July, and haven't walked since.  But I myself had a knee injury that I needed to nurse and nourish all year long.  It prevented me from walking much the first few months of the year, and after that the pain came and went sporadically.

The worst of it, though, is that I've gotten out of the habit of walking.  I used to know, innately, that if I didn't walk I'd feel bad.  That if I walked, I'd feel good.  A no-brainer.  Even on the days I didn't walk with Sharon, I generally got myself out the door, either for a walk or to the gym.  But, suddenly, last year, that all changed.

After a year of acupuncture, with the best acupuncturist in Portland, my knee is in quite good shape, thank you very much.  But my walking habit has been awful.  I've been lucky if I could drag myself out the door even 2 times a week.    I hate being so slothful.  My body hates it.  My brain hates it. 

Something had to be done.

And finally, I realized, duh–follow the same advice I give my students.  You know, that idea I beat into everybody's head repeatedly, until they are so sick of it they want to scream?  This advice: write every day, even if it is for only 15 minutes.

Translated to walking, this means, walk every day, even if it is for only 15 minutes.

Now, I'm a woman who is used to walking several miles every day, so 15 minutes is, um, not much.  But what I find happens is that once I get out the door it feels so good that I often keep going.  And even if I don't, at least 15 minutes is better than nothing.  And the consistency of it is helping me to rebuild this habit I've lost.

So, by lowering my expectations I've managed to start walking daily again.

As is so often the case, writing bleeds into life, and life, writing.  What works in one works in the other, maybe because, at least for me, I cannot seem to separate writing from life or life from writing.  So, if you've hit a rough patch with your writing, try lowering your expectations.  In writing, this can be seen two ways:

Time–As detailed above, lower your expectations for how much time you need to get writing done.  You don't have to have hours of uninteruppted time in which to work.  Here's a little-known fact–sometimes even full-time writers like me don't have hours upon hours to lavish on our work.  You can get a lot done in short bursts.  And even if you only take a few notes, you're keeping the work on the front burner of your brain.

Content–Lower your expectations for what you are writing, also.  Perfectionism has killed many a writing project.  Put it all on the page, even if it is total crap.  The first time through, it will be.  So just expect that.  Better yet, require that.  Tell yourself you have to write a bad page.  And then another.  And another.  Pretty soon you have a bad draft that might not be quite as bad as you think.  And even if it is, that's what God invented the concept of rewriting for.  So have at it.

Lower your expectations and raise your writing output.  Now excuse me, but I have to go walk before I head off for a Superbowl party.

0 thoughts on “Lower Your Expectations

  1. Ann Marie

    great advice!

  2. Jessica

    Thank you for the great reminder. I am also out of a walking routine, but I’m getting into a weekly beach walk routine, which provides the exercise and scenery at the same time. Win win.

    I am also out of writing routine. Your reminder is well timed. 🙂 I shall put your advice into practice.

  3. Derek

    Thank you Charlotte, for the inspiration of this post. It reminds me of what I also “taught” my clients as a therapist to feel the fear and do it anyway.

    It is a sort of fear I believe. Probabably fear of failing. We seem to judge situations on our very first impressions – like what good would it do? Really it may be a down ourselves, like “why punish myself with all that writing or walking, or other discipline”.

    Punishment? In Zen we say pain isn’t a punishment, it is a call to awareness, for us to become more alert. To focus into and through our pain to discover the I-am consciousness. Paradoxically, if we don’t discipline ourselves, we get to suffer until we do discipline ourselves and go through the suffering of our reasonble minds. The word “through” here offers a clue suggesting that we come to the other side, thus negating a little more of our endless karma.

    Don’t believe any of this, just a stream of consciousness. Just and exercise in writing the crap first! 🙂

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    Thanks, Ann Marie!

  5. Charlotte Dixon

    Either I’m going crazy or Typepad is, but the other comments didn’t show up until after I’d posted my response to Ann Marie.

    Derek, you are correct, there is judgment involved, isn’t there? Judgment in that my brain assumes that sitting is better than walking, which is silly.

    Jessica, wish I had a beach nearby to walk on! Hope you get your walking and your writing routine back on track.

  6. Leisa A. Hammett

    I like this. Thank you.

  7. Leisa A. Hammett

    Forgot to mention that my mother died late 2008. Here’s one post and there are several in my Grief & Loss section, esp. around Dec. 2008. FYI.

  8. Charlotte Dixon

    You are very welcome.

  9. Anen Wayman

    I’ve been getting back to the gym exactly this way… I got flu or something, and then became a slug for about 3 months. Now I’m going only two days a week, and fewer exercises and it’s working. I can feel the third day for the week coming on and I’m also wanting to do a bit more… thanks for the confirmation.

  10. Charlotte Dixon

    Anne, It really does work! I think that sometimes we get into an all or nothing mode, thinking, “If I can’t run three miles, then what is the use?” And then, because we don’t have time or inclination to do the three miles, we do nothing. But how much better it is just to get out the door for a bit, and maybe that bit turns into something longer. Even if it doesn’t, a bit is better than nothing.

  11. Angela Artemis

    Charlotte, Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is just what I needed to hear.

    Being so busy working full time, writing in my spare time and taking care of an aging parent since losing my father this past September I’ve let all extraneous activities go – and it shows. I don’t feel good and I don’t look my best. I haven’t exercised since last summer when my father first went into the hospital.

    I keep putting it off because I can’t find that extra hour in my schedule, but you’re so right in advising us to lower our expectations. Why not start with 15 minutes? Surely, I can find 15 minutes in my schedule.

    Thank you for imparting this little AHA moment that changed my perception. Today, I did 15 minutes on my elliptical machine and I feel good. Tomorrow I’m sure I’ll find another 15 minutes, and so on…

    Thanks again,
    Angela Artemis

  12. Charlotte Dixon

    Angela, I’m so glad it was helpful. I’m getting back into walking 15 minutes at a time, also. I’m sorry to hear about your father and good luck with dealing with your Mom.

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