Building Blocks: Make It Easier

July 19, 2024

Most recent completed puzzle

I just finished another jigsaw puzzle. It took me a couple of weeks of relaxed attention, and while there were moments when I had to work a little harder to proceed, finishing it was easy. I never had to schedule time or give myself a pep talk. I naturally gravitated to it, and spent time working on it most days, enough that I was able to finish it relatively quickly.

If I have time to do a jigsaw puzzle, why don’t I “have time” to do other things I say I want to do, like return to sketching/art journaling or watching the dog training videos of my course so I can work with Luna?

Why are some things so easy to do while I struggle with others? Clearly, time is not the issue. How “hard” something feels is—how much mental energy I have to summon to Do the Thing.

During this year of building a life I want, I’m going to explore a few of what I’m calling “building blocks.” In this post, I’m going to talk about “making it easier.”

When we try something new or we want to establish a new habit, we need to make it as easy as possible. Don’t set up roadblocks for ourselves when we could make our way clear. We don’t put obstacles in the way of babies learning to walk, do we? Maybe we should treat ourselves like babies! 

As Gretchen Rubin says in “The 21 Strategies for Habit Formation”: “To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not. The amount of effort, time, or decision-making required by an action has a huge influence on our habits. Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.” 

My puzzle was easy to do not just because it was fun, but because it was visible and readily available each time I had a few spare moments to do it. I didn’t have to find it, or unpack it, or anything like that.

I started thinking about different ways I can make it easier to spend time doing the things I want to do, without falling into the default of flopping on the couch or scrolling on my phone. My goal is to, as Leo Babauta writes, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.” 

Here are a few ideas for making it easier I’m experimenting with:  

Create a kit. A kit is a collection of items you need to accomplish a certain task. One kit I use all the time is a tote to carry the tools I need to groom Tank. It contains a hoof pick, curry comb, brushes, and other basic items I’m likely to need every time I groom him. I’m going to make an art journaling kit with some of my art supplies so that I’m not faced with the entirety of my (unorganized) stash every time I feel like playing in my journal. That’s just too overwhelming. Sitting down with a limited number of curated supplies is a lot easier.

Stack the habit. Just as I get dressed after I take a shower, I can piggyback a new activity on top of an established one: “After I do X, I do Y.” An idea here could be, “After I eat lunch, I watch a dog training course video.” I usually check email after lunch, but I could easily slip the dog training video in between eating and email. The videos are short, and won’t take much time away from the activities I have planned in the afternoon.

Use a timer. If there’s something I want to do but I’m feeling resistant to, setting a timer for a short amount of time often gets me through that roadblock: 15 minutes of decluttering and I can stop; do my weight training routine for 30 minutes and I’m done. There’s something about knowing we have a finite, and often short, period of time to do an activity that makes it easier to get started. And getting started is often the hardest part. 

Pair with pleasure. If there’s something I don’t want to do, or I find hard to do, I pair it with a simple pleasure. A delicious cup of something to drink, music or an inspiring podcast, sitting by a sunny window. Sometimes that little bit of pleasure is enough to convince me to start.

These are just a few ways to make establishing a new habit or adding a new activity to your schedule easier, and making it easier is just the first of my building blocks for building a satisfying life. More to come!

What’s your favorite way to make it easier? If you have more strategies, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below, or email me at kathyjohn335[at]gmail[dot]com.



New Year, Part 2*

July 05, 2024

Photo by Isabela Kronemberger on Unsplash

The year is halfway done. How’s it going so far?

Overall, 2024 is a much better year for me than 2023. (It could hardly be worse…and that is NOT a challenge to the Universe.) But I do still feel like I’m finding my feet again. Aside from healing from grief, I’m also figuring out what to do next with my time since my caregiving duties are done. I’d let my freelancing work slide because of the uncertainty around Carol’s condition, and now that I have control of my time back, I honestly don’t know if I want to go back to how I was working before. I also don’t know what else I would do! It’s a problem I’m still mulling over.

So 2024 is sort of a rebuilding year. Part healing, part restoration, part figuring out what I want for the future, regarding my purpose and how I contribute to our family through unpaid labor and income. I chose a word of the year (build) that I thought would help guide my life back into a shape I could love. And I set a few goals that I thought would get me back into the habit of accomplishment, not just survival.

In February, I did a quick goal check-in here on Catching Happiness, mentioning my three top goals for the year:

Write a draft of a book I’ve been thinking about for years.

Declutter (to some extent) my whole house.

Complete an online dog training course and train my dog, Luna.

How am I doing?

Succeeding and…

The only goal I’m making consistent progress with is decluttering my house. In fact, I’m almost done! I have just two rooms and my storage area in the garage left, and I also need to spend some time revisiting areas that have “magically” become cluttered again. I should be able to finish by September at the latest, giving myself extra time because of the energy-drain I always feel in summertime.

Failing better?

The other two goals? Though I haven’t done as much as I wanted to, I have done some, and I haven’t given up. I’ve continued trying, even though it’s in fits and starts. Maybe I’m failing better?

Book writing and dog training, are both new-to-me activities. I’m bad at them. I’m uncomfortable doing them. I have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable as I give myself time to get better. Both the dog training and book writing goals need and deserve deliberately scheduled time, and I haven’t been good at this. I frequently let the time I have available dribble away on other pursuits. Even when I write these goals as to-dos in my daily planner, I still blow them off all too often. I am not giving up, though. I’ll keep trying different strategies at least until the end of 2024.

The good news is…I can keep working on these goals, and I have six more months of 2024 to achieve them!

Beyond the goals list

When we evaluate the first half of our year, we should remember to look at more than just how we’re doing on our stated goals. How are we doing physically, mentally, emotionally? Are we having fun? How are our relationships faring? What unexpected events have challenged us? A happy life is more than just a series of goals checked off a list, though setting and achieving goals is one aspect of a well-rounded life.

When I reflect on the first six months of 2024, I realize that my emotions have mostly leveled out and I’m not falling prey to as many down days as I was at the beginning of the year. The emotional turmoil has settled down. Tank is doing great. I’m getting together with friends, reading good books, planning a weekend at the beach with my husband. I feel energy returning, and I find myself feeling grateful more often without having to force myself to look for the good.

And on we go into the second half of 2024!

What has 2024 held for you so far? We’d love to hear about your accomplishments, challenges, dreams—and anything else you’d like to share—in the comments section below!

More on the mid-year check-in:

Mid-Year Goal Planner Check-In: Goal Setting Mindmaps, Resets, And More! 

Best Laid Plans podcast: Happy Mid Year!

*Title stolen from Sarah Hart-Unger’s July newsletter! 


Keep This in Mind When Setting Goals

February 23, 2024

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

“The way we think about growth often has us laser-focused on the end goal. Yes, we might be aware of the steps that it takes to get what we want, but we think about grinding our way through them in lieu of a process we actually enjoy. When you think about your goals, take into consideration not only the objective itself but the journey of reaching it. Ask yourself: Will I like the ways that I’ll change along this path? Do I like the process of learning, of supporting others, of working with new people? Reflection can help you get clear on why you’re prioritizing certain goals and if they’re really representative of the life you want for yourself.”

—Isabelle Eyman, “We Can’t Be Productive Every Day—So Why Do We Continue to Glorify It?”


February Already? 2024 Goals: Check-in Number One

February 02, 2024

My decluttered office bookshelves

After a year in which I had little control over my time and even less over my emotions, I’m planning to make 2024 a year for restoring and building. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’d like to see happen in 2024, personally and professionally. Today’s post is a check-in to see how things are going.

I thought it might be useful to talk about my goals on Catching Happiness throughout the year—it’ll keep me accountable, and maybe it will be helpful to you to see how I (try to) break larger goals down into smaller steps. I’ll share progress, missteps, and sources of inspiration. If there’s something you’d like to me to write more about, please feel free to comment below, or contact me directly at kathyjohn335 [at] gmail [dot] com. 

Goals and happiness

In January’s edition of the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter, I revealed three of my major goals for 2024 and wrote the following paragraph:

What do goals have to do with happiness? Having goals to work toward, something to look forward to, contributes to hope, optimism, and, yes, happiness. According to Action for Happiness, ‘Direction’ is one of the 10 Keys to Happier Living.  Goals which are good for happiness are those we choose for ourselves, rather than things we think we ‘should’ do; they’re things we want to move towards rather than things we want to stop doing; they’re personally meaningful for us and reflect our interests and values; and we have control over how we work towards them.” 

(If you don’t get the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter but would like to, click here. Happy Little Thoughts comes out on the last Wednesday of each month, and I don’t share or sell your email address.) 

While I have additional goals that I may discuss later, the three I shared in the newsletter are:

  • Write a draft of a book I’ve been thinking about for years.
  • Declutter (to some extent) my whole house.
  • Complete an online dog training course and train my dog, Luna (hopefully won’t take the entire year to do this one).

How did I do in January?

Welllll, results were mixed. January was a FULL month: we hosted guests from out of town twice (family last weekend, my friend Kerri for the first week of the month) and I dealt with a few miscellaneous life maintenance things like dental appointments and household repairs. Tank was seriously sick and between worry, hospital visits, and trips to the barn to shoot medicine down his throat (you can guess how happy that made him) I didn’t have much bandwidth for anything except getting through the day. Here’s how things went:

Goal 1: In January, I wanted to go over what I already had written and organize my materials, as well as start regular writing sessions three times each week. I knew it would be a busy month, so I wasn’t ambitious. I did collect my materials, briefly look them over, and I managed one writing session total. Not a great start, but considering my stress and busy-ness levels in January, I’m not too surprised or disappointed.  

Goal 2: For my whole-house declutter, I’m working on two rooms each month, pairing a simple one with a more challenging one. In January, I worked on my home office and our guest bathroom. I’m basically finished with both—though my office (the challenging room) still has a couple of minor things that need to be taken care of. It looks so much better and is now a place where I want to spend time working again.

Goal 3: I’ve purchased an online dog training course (SpiritDog, no affiliation) after trying out some of their free offerings, but all I managed to do in January was read a couple of emails and watch a couple of short videos. 

What’s next in February and beyond?

I don’t think February will be as busy a month, but it is a shorter month so I’m still being conservative with my expectations. I want to build consistency and momentum.

These are my plans for February:

Goal 1: I’m considering investing in a couple of online book writing courses, and I’ll decide whether or not either of them is appropriate. I’ve blocked out time for writing and research sessions. I’m planning to experiment with writing in different locations, both to reduce distractions (Laundry! Dishes! Luna wants attention!) and to make writing more fun.

Goal 2: I’ve got my next two rooms picked out: my kitchen and dining room. In January, my habit was to set a timer and declutter for at least 15 minutes a day. That worked well, so I’m going to repeat that process.

Goal 3: I’ll schedule time for reading/watching the dog training course, and short sessions of training with Luna several days a week.

I’m still kind of feeling my way. Each month, I want to review my progress and make any necessary adjustments, but I probably won’t do an update like this on the blog every month. Maybe quarterly? The idea of having to publicly report my progress or lack thereof is pretty motivating! (And a little scary!)

I want to be a person with a mannerly dog, in a decluttered house, who has written a book. These goals will all take time, consistency, and the building of habits. It’s only February, and I’m still filled with optimism. We shall see what the rest of the year has in store.

If you’d like to share your own goals in comments below, I’d love to hear them!


Some Assembly Required

January 19, 2024

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Happy belated New Year! I’m mostly back from my extended break after a productive, in-depth review of 2023.

As I wrote in December’s Happy Little Thoughts, I did not accomplish many personal or professional goals in 2023. I spent most of the year navigating grief and the practical and administrative matters related to two deaths, and it was all I could do to keep my own life somewhat functional. When I wasn’t doing those things, I was mentally and emotionally recovering from doing them.

But now things are starting to settle down*. Starting a new year feels like starting fresh.

Choosing a word of the year

As usual, I have been pondering the choice of a word of the year. I would like 2024 to be, as professional sports teams call it, “a rebuilding year.” Now that I’m no longer responsible for caring for my mother-in-law, I can begin to think again of what I want to accomplish.

I toyed with the idea of rebuild as a word of the year, but it didn’t feel quite right. My circumstances have changed. My dreams have changed. My tolerance levels for some things have changed. I’m staring down a milestone birthday. Instead of rebuilding what I had before, as great as it was, I want to build a life I love, one that makes me happy to wake up in the morning, on the foundation of my old life. If that makes sense.

Here’s the quote, from Jamie Varon, that inspired me to choose build as my word of the year:

“Imagine the woman you want to be. Think of what her daily life, her habits, and routines would be. Start showing up to those habits and routines, start building them, step by step, and day by day. You don’t become her like magic. You build her. Start building.”

Words of support

Knowing that I am still somewhat shaky emotionally (especially considering what’s been going on with Tank—see * below), I’m choosing a couple of “background” words to support build: restore, gentle. At least right now, I’m not up for any major disruptive changes. I am up for building small habits, little by little, gently, while allowing time for restoration.  

After I wrote down some big goals I want to achieve in 2024, I broke them down into smaller goals, sometimes into something I can achieve in a month. Some of these subgoals are process goals, like “work on [insert project here] 15 minutes 3 times a week.” January has been kind of a trial run, as I figure out how to build the habits I want.

Some fun supportive practices

Thinking about choosing your own word of the year? That’s only the first step. While you can leave it to chance, if you want to make the most of the practice of choosing a word of the year, it helps to keep that word uppermost in your mind. Here are a few supportive practices I’ve heard about and might try this year: 

  • Keep a notebook to record ways your word of the year has shown up in your life
  • Create a Pinterest board for your word of the year
  • Create a vision board focusing on your word of the year
  • Put your word of the year on sticky notes and post them in strategic places.

What feels different?

I feel a certain determination I haven’t felt before. A few of my goals have migrated from year to year without my making any real headway on them and I want that to stop. I feel more likely to look for solutions and work arounds when I hit a roadblock, rather than giving up at the first significant obstacle. One lesson I learned from losing my mom and mother-in-law is that you don’t have all the time in the world. If you want to do it, do it. Do not keep putting off things that are important to you. Build the life you want now.

Do you choose a word of the year? If you’d like to share, please do in the comments below!

Read about past words of the year here, here, and here.

*Last week, my horse, Tank, developed some kind of serious mystery ailment and for the past week I’ve been alternating between hope and despair. As I write this post, he is doing better and I’m cautiously optimistic that he’ll pull through. He’s due to come home from the vet hospital tomorrow.


First Thoughts for 2022

January 14, 2022

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

How have the first two weeks of the new year been treating you?

I’m finally taking a breath after a whirlwind last couple of weeks of 2021, another year I’m not sorry to put behind me. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks recovering (I’m so tired…you?) and regrouping. (Read: digging out my office which has become, once again, a Pit of Despair.)

The beginning of a new year is a natural place to think about goals and changes you want to make. But this year, instead of planning a whole year’s worth of goals, or diving head first into the deep end, I’m taking a gentler approach overall. For example:

Word of the year

Remember my word of the year (WOTY), dare, from last year? Probably not, because after that first optimistic post, I don’t think I revisited it on the blog even once. And not much more often in private. Too many varied and disrupting events took place in 2021, and dare just didn’t fit well with how the year played out. In this instance, choosing a word of the year was kind of like when health experts try to match the annual flu vaccine with the flu strains expected to be circulating…and fail!

In retrospect, a better WOTY for 2021 would have been “survive.”

So anyway, as 2021 wound down, a word kept reappearing in my consciousness, and as I usually do when that happens, I’ve taken it as my WOTY for 2022:


Not shiny or glamorous, but fitting, in that the past two years have made me hunker down and reevaluate my life in unexpected ways. I’m looking forward to seeing how simpler influences how the year unfolds. Two things that come to mind immediately are the way I cook (my menu planning and cooking need a revamp that makes them simpler) and what I concentrate on in my writing. I’ve been chasing too many different types of writing projects and I’ve managed both to lose the joy of writing as well as dilute my focus and skill level. I’m sure more will come to my attention as the year goes on.

(Two of my online friends have also chosen words of the year. Read their posts here and here.)

Goal setting/yearly planning

I’m very good at complicating things, overscheduling, and being wound too tightly. Rushing, rushing, rushing. Fitting more in when I should take more time to do fewer things. (Another way in which simpler may help.)

I came across this sentence in something I read (forgive me, I can’t remember where I found it), and this sums up what I want for 2022:

“I want a year of ease and serendipity and settling into the spaces of my life in a way that feels organic instead of molded to fit arbitrary goals I set for myself.”

I’m slowing way down. Being a lot more deliberate. There are a few things on my “I’d like to accomplish” list for 2022. I’m using Gretchen Rubin’s “22 for 22” framework, but I only have about 10 things listed so far. 

What I’m not doing

I’m not doing any reading challenges. I’m not going on a diet. I’m not “making big plans,” at least not yet. 

And speaking of plans, I just finished reading Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Burkeman (Amazon, Bookshop, no affiliation), which is not about time management in the traditional way at all. This passage resonated:

“…planning is an essential tool for constructing a meaningful life, and for exercising our responsibilities toward other people. The real problem isn’t planning. It’s that we take our plans to be something they aren’t. What we forget, or can’t bear to confront, is that, in the words of the American meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein, ‘a plan is just a thought.’ We treat our plans as though they are a lasso, thrown from the present around the future, in order to bring it under our command. But all a plan is—all it could ever possibly be—is a present-moment statement of intent. It’s an expression of your current thoughts about how you’d ideally like to deploy your modest influence over the future. The future, of course, is under no obligation to comply.”

Almost none of my plans over the past two years have come to fruition. I’m disappointed, but at the same time, simply grateful to be alive and relatively unscathed. I’m not even going to try to guess what 2022 holds, but I am going to stay optimistic and open. To continue to embrace simple pleasures and everyday adventures—and to share any happy discoveries with you.

Do you have any special plans for 2022? What is your word of the year?

For more easy, beginning-of-the-year inspiration, check out these links:

The Soul + Wit podcast, “Less Hustle, More Happiness.” 

The Action for Happiness Happier January calendar.


A Midsummer Day Check-In

June 24, 2019

Photo by Kyle Peyton on Unsplash

In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re at the edge of summer. We just experienced the longest day of the year on June 21st, and today is Midsummer’s Day. In many countries, such as Sweden and Finland, Midsummer’s Day (or Midsummer’s Eve) is a holiday that celebrates the longest day. The actual festivities take place on different dates, depending on the location, and activities include bonfires and maypoles.

While I won’t be lighting a bonfire (it’s plenty hot enough here already), I am taking some time today to check in on how my year is going so far. I didn’t set a bunch of big goals at the beginning of the year—I just wasn’t up for it at the time—but I did choose a word of the year, rise, which I’m sorry to say I’ve basically forgotten all about.


But I feel more inclined to set a few goals now, though I still want to stay low-key with the process. I’ve already checked off a couple of items on my Summer Fun List, including taking a yoga class, and indulging in a black cow (more than one, if I’m honest—wouldn’t want that root beer to go to waste).  I’m also well into my Summer Reading List—I finished The Foundling, and have started The Island of the Sea Women, Ride With Your Mind, and The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

The year is slipping away all too quickly, and I don’t want to waste any of its precious days. So, notebook and coffee cup in hand, today I’ll be thinking about what 2019 has held so far, and what I’d like the rest of the year to be like.

If you’d like to take the opportunity to check in with yourself, too, here are some questions to ponder:

  • What do I want for the rest of the year?
  • What is working well? What isn’t?
  • What gifts has 2019 given me so far?
  • What habits do I want to break? What habits do I want to continue or start?
  • Is there anything that I absolutely want to accomplish this year? If so, what small steps can I take immediately to work towards that goal?
I’d like to look back on the year in December and be happy about not only what I’ve accomplished, but how I’ve lived—did I savor the simple pleasures and everyday adventures, or was I too busy and distracted to appreciate what I had? Did I make the most of my time, or did I fritter it away on pursuits that ultimately left me feeling empty?

Taking some time to reflect on your life—whether you do it on Midsummer’s Day, New Year’s Day, or every Sunday evening, can help you focus on the activities, people, and thoughts that help you lead your happiest life.

What has 2019 been like for you so far? Please share some of what you’ve been doing, thinking, and learning this year in the comments below!  

Danielle LaPorte

Insanity and the March Rebellion

March 05, 2018

Photo courtesy Ryan McQuire,

You’ve probably heard this definition of insanity before: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Well, call me insane.

For more than a year, I’ve been creating monthly, quarterly, and yearly plans, setting goals for each month, religiously writing down and crossing off tasks and to-dos in an effort to build my freelance writing business, strengthen my health, maintain our home, keep in better touch with my friends and family, improve my horsemanship, sketch more, and so on. I want to experience all the simple pleasures and everyday adventures I can—I don’t want to waste any precious time, or look back and wonder what I did with my life. My lists usually help me stay focused and remind me that I have a choice about how I spend my time.

Until they don’t.

Until I reach overload, and realize I’m moving many of the same items from list to list, week to week, month to month, without doing them. Expecting that “this month it will be different.” (See, insanity.) Even the ones I was nailing were beginning to bug me.

Danielle LaPorte’s words in White Hot Truth sounded eerily applicable: “Contemporary women revere their [To-Do] lists like Moses loved his stone tablets. They are directions to the Promised Land. The thrill of crossing something off: check, check, and check. Mmmmm, feels so good. So good that you might write stuff down that you’ve already done just so you can cross it off (yep, you got it bad). Like any addiction, the to-do list is destined to lose its thrill when it rules us….

“My list started feeling like a row of soldiers shouting at me…. Once I started paying attention, that background noise became awfully loud. Its refrain, on repeat: I sort of suck because I should…” 

Well then.

So last week when I hauled out my master list for the year, my goals workbook, February to-do list, and prepared to write out March’s list of goals I hit a brick wall.

Nope. I can’t do it this way anymore, at least for now. I’m sick of copying the same-old, same-old goals and tasks from month to month. Even the ones that consistently get done every month. It’s only March and I already feel burdened and rebellious. I do not want to feel burdened and rebellious. I write about happiness, fercryinoutloud.

The Rebellion caused me to look at my proposed goals and decide 1) whether I still wanted to do them, and 2) whether I could realistically do them this month given the other responsibilities on my plate (I’m looking at you, Luna). I hate admitting this, but I do not have the physical or mental energy to do the number of things I want to do at any one time. And I can’t always be saying no to the simple pleasures and everyday adventures that give me joy and help me relax in favor of working or “achieving.”

I sat for a few moments reflecting on which of these many (many) items were truly important for me to accomplish (and do well) in the next four weeks. Which ones would I enjoy most—whether because the thing itself was enjoyable or having it checked off the list would make me feel especially relieved and happy.

Instead of copying all of February’s goals to a new file, renaming it, and removing the items that got checked off in February that don’t need to be repeated in March, I started fresh with a blank piece of paper and wrote down just a few things I’d like to do in March. The writing jobs I’m committed to. Puppy obedience classes. Planning and preparing for an April trip to California to see my parents and my friend Kerri. My list was shorter, but more meaningful to me.

I don’t know what March is going to bring. Maybe I won’t even accomplish what’s on my shorter list. But at least for now, I don’t feel quite as insane.

How do you cope when you feel overwhelmed by everything you’d like to do?


Making Success Out of Habits

February 12, 2018

It’s mid-February—do you know where your goals are? Are you still working towards them, or have you become discouraged or distracted? 

The excitement of a new year has worn off by now, and most of us are faced with the reality of ongoing effort, of putting one foot in front of the other. Have we made it easy—or at least easier—to be successful in pursuit of our goals and dreams? Have we put in place habits and routines that support reaching them?

I’ve been thinking about habits and routines a lot lately for two reasons:

First, we now have little Luna to teach and take care of, and as we train her, we try to set her up for success—by walking her often, keeping her contained and under supervision (so she doesn’t get into too much trouble!), and praising her when she does things we like. We have a regular schedule, with feeding times (her favorite), play time in the back yard, short obedience training sessions, time she spends quietly in her dog crate, and plenty of praise, cuddling, and petting. We want to make it easy for her to do right, to reach her goal (which we set for her, because…she’s a DOG) of living happily with humans. Having a set routine not only helps her to learn what to do when and what we expect of her, it helps us shape her behavior.

Second, my own routine has been thrown off by the demands of Luna’s routine! At least for now, I have to create new habits and routines to suit my altered situation. It’s a great exercise in flexibility, which I admit I’m not skilled in.

Whatever your goal is, what habits can you develop that will lead to success? If you want to be an artist, are you sketching, painting, or sculpting every day (or most days)? If you want to write a book, are you sitting down with pen and paper or at your computer and getting the words down? If you want to be healthier, are you taking a daily walk, or eating more vegetables, or drinking a glass of water when you wake up? If you want to read more books, are you turning off the TV or computer and setting aside time to read? These habits, this dailyness, leads you forward toward the inevitable: reaching your goal of a finished sketchbook, a healthier body, or an enviable Books Read list.

So if you want to use habits and routines to reach your goals:

  • Choose a habit—it can be as small as you like, as long as you commit to doing it daily or almost every day.

  • Practice your habit until it becomes a routine. 

  • And when your routine is disrupted (which will happen sooner or later), do what you can to maintain some semblance of habit during the disruption. If this isn’t possible, don’t stress about it—just return to your established routine when you can.

What habits and routines do you find most helpful? What habits and routines do you plan to put in place in order to reach your goals?

Ready for action


7 Alternatives to Making New Year’s Resolutions

January 01, 2018

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash
Does anyone make a New Year’s resolution anymore? There’s a lot of talk about how resolutions are rarely kept, and how most people give up on their goals just a few weeks or months into the year. For a person who wants to set and achieve goals, it can be a frustrating dilemma. If resolutions aren’t an effective way to a better and happier life, what is?

Here are seven alternatives to New Year’s resolutions that just might help you make 2018 your happiest year ever:

Choose a Word of the Year

I’ve done this for eight years, and written about it several times on Catching Happiness. I choose my word to focus on an overall theme or feeling I want to carry through the entire year. I choose it to offset tendencies I want to correct, or to remind myself to choose happiness (“delight”). My word for 2017 was “deeper,” and going deeper into life last year added brilliant new dimensions to my experience. My word for 2018? Flow. For a free Word of the Year tool, click here. To explore the concept further, visit

Adopt a “Do More ______, Do Less_____” philosophy

For example, “Read more, watch TV less” or “Walk more, eat less junk food.” Deceptively simple, but baby steps work.

Commit to a 30- or 90-day challenge

Choose a habit you want to adopt or a small goal you want to achieve, and work on it for 30 days straight. For larger goals, make a 90-day plan, treating each week as the equivalent of month (see The 12 Week Year for more inspiration and ideas about how to do that.) 

Make a list of simple pleasures and everyday adventures you want to experience

How often do we pack our goal lists with things we want to change or have to work for? This is simply a list of things you look forward to in 2018. Family vacations, books you want to read or movies you want to see in 2018, or a loved one’s wedding/baby/grandchild belong on this list. Try breaking it down like Laura Vanderkam does with her seasonal “fun lists”

Write a letter to your future self

Include such things as what you hope to accomplish, how you want to feel, what you’d like to leave behind in the coming year. Open it on Jan. 1, 2019 to see how you did.

Start a gratitude journal, jotting down at least one thing you’re grateful for every day

(Read The Gratitude Diaries for an inspiring look at how gratitude can make your life happier.) 

Join the 7 Things x 2018 Challenge

Fill in the following blanks, and you’ve got some goals for the year:
Learn how to ____________
Start ____________
Stop ____________
Take a vacation to ____________
Find ____________
Try ____________
Be more ____________

Growth contributes to happiness, so setting and reaching goals is one way to feel happier. I hope 2018 holds plenty of growth and happiness for you!

What do you have planned for 2018?

Note: Starting today, I’m changing the usual Catching Happiness posting schedule from Wednesdays and Fridays to Mondays and Fridays. Happy New Year!

12 Week Year

Planning Practices for a New Year

January 06, 2017

During the week between Christmas and Jan. 1, I begin my official year-end wrap up and planning for the next year. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do set some big, overarching goals at this time. Or try to. I have a problem with big, overarching goals. Oh, I can set them all right, but I struggle with the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty practicality of how to get from here to there. I’m going to try something new this year, which I’ll get to later, but first, I’m going to share with you some tools I use for planning my goals for a new year.

Year-End Review

Before I get into any goal setting, I look back over the past year to see what I’ve accomplished and where I’ve fallen short. This year, I used Marie Forleo’s three-question review, but I also wrote down a list of some of the more mundane things I did that nevertheless were accomplishments, such as reading 109 books, posting to Catching Happiness 106 times, and starting a regular sketching practice (three months and counting). While I fell short on working on my book idea, riding Tank bridleless, purging my house of unneeded items, and various and sundry other goals, 2016 was a better-than-average year for me. I took a moment to savor those accomplishments before moving on to…

Goal Brainstorming

Next, I start writing out all the things that are floating around in my head that I would like to see accomplished in the coming year. This is where I allow myself to dream big, and I include as many of the nagging tasks I’d like to see finished as I can think of. This year, I’ve made a list called “70 in ’17”—70 things I want to happen in 2017. Some of these are writing goals (complete a draft of that book, write some haiku), some are household goals (buy new light fixture for kitchen nook, stain the chairs on the front porch), and some are just for fun (do puzzle with M, buy some new music, go to Fannin Hill with Tank). My idea is to work from this list as I sit down to plan each month.

12-Week Planning

This is the new thing I mentioned above. I recently read The12-Week Year, and I’m experimenting with 12-Week planning. I’m hoping this will solve my problem with carrying out my bigger goals by helping me break them down into much smaller, more do-able increments. So far, I’m still struggling a bit with that—my perfectionism (fear in disguise?) is hampering my ability to choose and break down appropriate goals, but I’m making progress.

Word of the Year

As I’ve done in past years, I choose a word of the year to guide me. Previous years’ words have included open, light, passion, and quality. This year’s word is “deeper.” I want it to encourage me to stop skimming the surface and go deeper, to find the riches that are buried. Be less superficial, more real. Do fewer things, but do them better.

Vision Board

For me, this is just pure fun. I like playing with pretty pictures! I create two—a larger one for my office, and a smaller one to go in my daily planner. I choose images and words that make me happy and draw me to them, that symbolize for me something I want more of in my life.

In January, all things seem possible. It’s in the actual doing that we sometimes run into problems. All this planning, for me, is intended to keep me on track. I share these practices with you in case there’s anything here you might like to try for yourself.

How do you plan for a new year? Do you have any goals or dreams for 2017 you’d like to share?


Why Positive Thinking Is Holding You Back--and What To Do Instead

November 18, 2016

What could be wrong with positive thinking? Shouldn’t you maintain an optimistic belief in your success when you set out to achieve something? After all, popular culture is full of inspirational quotes like:

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

 “Leap and the net will appear.”

“Wishing makes it so.”

While these quotes may make you feel good, they fall short when it comes to the practicalities of figuring out how to “make it so.” Instead of spending time only visualizing, wishing, or dreaming about achieving a goal, there is a system that can make you more likely to achieve your goals and dreams.

It’s called mental contrasting.

Mental contrasting is a visualization technique developed by researcher and professor Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues, and is discussed at length in the book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation

Daydreaming all by itself, according to Oettingen, makes people less likely to realize their dreams and wishes. Why? Because, she writes, “The pleasurable act of dreaming seems to let us fulfill our wishes in our minds, sapping our energy to perform the hard work of meeting the challenges in real life.”

We shouldn’t stop dreaming altogether, though. In fact, dreaming is a big part of mental contrasting. However, it goes beyond the simple dreaming stage into more practical waters.

This brings us to the handy little acronym WOOP, which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. According to, “WOOP can support all areas of behavior change. It is for people who feel stuck and don’t know what to do. It is also for people whose lives seem just fine but who feel they can do better. And it is for people who face a particular challenge or transition….Use WOOP to excel at work, promote good health, enjoy relationships more, and live a happier life.”

According to, the four steps of WOOP work like this:

  1. Wish. Choose a wish or goal that is important and challenging for you, but one that also feels doable within the next four weeks.
  2. Outcome. What is the best possible outcome if you were to fulfill your wish? How would you feel? Imagine this as fully as you can.
  3. Obstacle. What is the biggest obstacle within you that stands between you and your wish? Figure out what that is, then take a moment to imagine that fully.
  4. Plan. Once you know what stands in your way, take some time to figure out at least one way you can overcome it. Create an “if/then” plan: “If…, then I will…”

If you want to try WOOP, click here for a template to use for planning purposes. There’s also an app and a “woop kit.” 

Just as The Upside of Stress changed and broadened my thinking about stress, Rethinking Positive Thinking gave me a new way to plan and execute goals and dreams, and I wanted to share it with you. For most people, happiness includes growth and accomplishment. Mental contrasting is one tool likely to help you with that facet of life. All the vision boards in the world will not help you if you do not act. Wishing does not make it so. But WOOPing just might.

For more information, here is a short video explaining the science behind WOOP:

What goal, wish, or dream would you like to “WOOP”?


When You Fail

February 19, 2016

Photo courtesy Gerd Altmann

I did something stupid this week. There was no way I could blame anyone else, no way I could weasel out of responsibility for it, or avoid looking my failure straight in the eye. Boy, was it painful. My insides churned with embarrassment, I was disappointed in myself, and it set me back on one of my goals big time. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it was.)

But you know what? I survived. Plus, I realized that my worst-case scenario had just happened, and it wasn’t the end of the world. What a gift! I can (and I will) come back from it.

Into every happy life, some failure must fall. If you have goals, especially big, ambitious ones, sooner or later you will fail. That’s just being human. No one ever succeeds at what they set out to do 100% of the time. As J.K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

So what can you learn from failure? How can you learn from it? Here are three ways to bounce back from failure:

1. Be courageous enough to think about your failure. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen, or try to twist a failure into a success. Can you figure out what caused your failure? What might you have done differently? In reflecting on my failure, I came up with several small things that came together to contribute to it—one of which was I that ignored my intuition and kept pushing forward when I should have stopped.

2. Get feedback from others. I know this is hard. My ego stomps its feet and storms off when I try this, and I’m not very good at it, but it does help. After my failure this week, I talked things over with someone, and she started me thinking about what I should have done differently (see point number one).

3. Make a plan for what you’ll do next. This will depend on the type and extent of your failure. Will you continue on with your goal, change directions, or stop altogether? I will continue with my goal, but take a step back to bolster some areas that need attention before moving forward.

And, if failure is as painful to you as it is to me, here is one more, all-important tip:

Fail more often. Try new things and different approaches. “Practice” failing. (I know. I don’t want to do it either.) And remember, failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. What would be worse would be not to try at all.

What have you learned from your failures?

Baby steps

Dreaming Is Not Enough

January 11, 2016

Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post about Barbara Sher’s book Refuse to Choose, and my enthusiasm for my “six-year calendar of happiness.” Thrilled to understand myself better, I thought the calendar represented a way to focus my Scanner nature and enjoy and pursue all the things that catch my interest in a tidy and organized fashion.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And, at first, it worked pretty well. In 2010, I played with my horse, began learning watercolor, read a couple of classics. In 2011, I did more of the same. However, despite my hopes otherwise, my freelancing sputtered to a halt. I never studied Florida history (2010), did any cross stitch projects (2011), or finished the book I was writing (2012). I had the single word “travel” under 2014, and though I visited my family in California and took a road trip to St. Augustine with a friend that year, that hardly seems like what I’d originally had in mind.

I’m sure Refuse to Choose had advice on making those dreams and goals happen, but I conveniently forgot the part where I had to take action. Here are three mistakes I made:

  1. After writing down the topics I wanted to concentrate on for the next year, I tucked the list away and never looked at it again.
  2. I didn’t break down the larger goals/objectives/dreams into small actions I could take.
  3. I didn’t revise and expand each year’s goals as I went.

This reminds me of the Sidney Harris cartoon of two men standing at a blackboard chalked with equations. Step two of the problem they’re solving is: “Then a miracle occurs.” I kept expecting that miracle to occur! I kept expecting to meet my goals or learn fill-in-the-blank or experience I-don’t-know-what without taking any steps to make it happen.

Writing down goals and dreams is a start, but it’s only a start. Just writing down “travel” didn’t take me where I wanted to go, either literally or figuratively. In 2016, things are starting out differently. After I jotted down some goals for the year, I made a list of things I’m going to do in January to reach those goals. Then I made a list of what I plan to do this week. Then I sent that list of tasks to a friend who has agreed to kindly prod me when I start blowing off the steps that will lead me to my goals. (I’m an Obliger, so this step is important for me.) As the year progresses, I will adjust my goals as I need to, and I still want to jot down a few ideas for future years—true to my Scanner self, I have many things I want to explore that I will not have time or energy to tackle this year.

Why do I share this with you? Why should you care?

First, because I hope to have many more simple pleasures and everyday adventures to share with you here on Catching Happiness. More importantly, I hope if I succeed that I’ll be a positive example to inspire you to live a fuller and more interesting life. (And if I fail, I can be a cautionary tale!)

I want to be happier and I’ll bet you do, too. While doing isn’t always the answer, sometimes it is. I want to do more of the things I say I want to do rather than only dream about them. 

What are your dreams for 2016? How do you plan to make them come true? Please share in the comments below.


What's the Real Aim of Working Toward Goals?

January 06, 2016

“Intentions and goals are tools for liberation. But when we use goal-chasing like a hammer, it can beat up on our self-esteem, relationships, and creativity.

“The foundation of a good relationship with intentions and goals is keeping in mind that the primary aim of setting and working toward them is to feel the way you want to feel.”
—Danielle LaPorte


Welcome, 2016

January 04, 2016

Image courtesy Alexas Fotos
The Christmas tree is packed away, much to Prudy’s disappointment (broken ornament count: 3), and we finally, finally have some cool weather set to stick around for a few days. The sun shines today after a couple of gray, rainy days. It feels like a new year and, for the moment, I feel energized.

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be setting goals and intentions for at least the next quarter of the year. Starting with—no reading challenges. I’m passing on them all, because they were starting to feel not-fun. When reading a vintage mystery starts to feel not-fun, then something’s wrong. In 2016, reading is one area I’m leaving entirely to whim. Any reading projects I take on will be ones I set for myself. (But thank you to the lovely folks who set and run reading challenges—it’s not you, it’s me! I may be back next year.)

I’ll be finalizing my word of the year, playing around with this workbook, and generally doing what I can to set myself up for a fantastic year.  

So, welcome 2016. I’ve got a good feeling about you.

Have you made any special plans or set any intentions for 2016?

Everyday adventures

Five Ways to Cope When You're Overwhelmed

July 27, 2015

Photo courtesy Schicka

Every life has its ups and downs, its simple pleasures and everyday adventures. It also has times when an adventure becomes a bit more than “everyday”—when it challenges your skills and emotional resilience, stretches you beyond what you think you can do, and threatens to overwhelm you. This is how you grow.

Lately, overwhelm has been my constant companion. I’m hip deep in revitalizing my freelance writing—simultaneously taking online classes, building a writer’s website, and brainstorming ideas for pitches. There’s nothing at all curvaceous about my learning curve right now: it points straight up!

I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. We all have times in our lives when we take on big projects or face major life changes that leave us feeling exhausted and scared. Here are some ways I’ve been coping that might help you, too:

Do something related to your project every day, no matter how small. Make lists of ridiculously small steps and cross them off as you go. Build on those steps. If you’re learning something new, reread the information you read yesterday and you’ll probably understand it better. Experiment over and over with that new art technique, or set a timer and work on your project for 15 minutes. Just keep at it. Working on it every day helps to desensitize you to the scariness.

Sit with the uncomfortable feelings. Let them roll over you, and often you find they pass and you can get on with your work. If you’re especially worried, allow yourself a designated “worry time,” and whenever anxious thoughts arise, tell yourself that you’ll think about them during worry time.

Plan treats for yourself while you’re going through this experience. Choose something comforting for mind, body, or soul, something that refills your emotional well. Last week I had a massage and met a friend for lunch to offset the hours I spent struggling with my new website.

Keep your focus on the small step right in front of you. Don’t allow yourself to drift into thoughts of “what if,” fantasize about failure, obsess about the next 10 steps you’ll need to take, or even let your mind wander to the big picture. There will be time for that later. I’m encouraged by E.L. Doctorow’s words about writing: “[It] is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

When it all becomes too much, step aside before you reach the crying and/or cursing stage (or, even worse, the drinking stage). If I’m tired, or if I’ve been at it for several hours, little setbacks can seem insurmountable. When I start to feel overwhelmed and hopeless, I know it’s time to stop for a while. I’ll return when I’m feeling rested and energetic again.

Even though I’ve felt overwhelmed lately, I’ve also felt more energetic and excited than I have for a while. I think the challenge is worth the struggle—and that makes me happy.

When you’re faced with a big, overwhelming project or experience, how do you cope?

Amanda Stuermer

Why You Should Be Inspired Every Day

February 16, 2015

“Sustainable change is driven by inspiration, not shame.
—Jena La Flamme

Have you ever wanted to make a change in your life, or accomplish a significant goal? In what ways did you motivate yourself to do what you needed to do? Did you seek out inspiration and encouragement—or did you use shame and anxiety to prod yourself into action?

In the last two days, I’ve come across two different references to the importance of inspiration versus shame and/or anxiety in making change and accomplishing goals. The first instance is quoted above. How many times do we use shaming tactics to try to effect change? And how has that been workin’ for us? Not well, in my case. Browbeating myself about what I haven’t accomplished saps my will to do pretty much anything except surf Pinterest and eat M & Ms right out of the bag. It gets me nowhere on the road to my big dreams. 

I found the second reference in this piece, written by Amanda Stuermer, on Jennifer Louden’s blog (emphasis hers): “I believe we choose the direction of our days, and that choice begins with our first waking thoughts. If I wake up worrying how I will ever get my to-do list done, I will feel rushed and pressured the whole day through. My words, actions, and habits will reflect that sense of anxiety. If instead, I wake up grateful for the opportunity to pursue my passions, I will feel inspired and my words, actions, and habits will reflect that. I would so much rather that my character and my destiny be guided by inspiration than anxiety.”  

It seems that inspiration can help us both with lasting change and with how we go about our daily tasks. I want to be guided by inspiration, not anxiety or shame, and I’m guessing you do, too. So how do we make this shift? We can start by getting rid of comparisons and blame (of ourselves and others).  Instead of stewing about lost opportunities or mistakes, we can turn to words of inspiration or stories of people who have done the things we want to do. Instead of being frustrated by others’ perceived success (or our own perceived lack thereof), we can choose to be inspired by them, rather than depressed. I know from personal experience that this is not always easy. I can’t control who gets the breaks, but I can at least try to control my emotions if it’s not me.

We can also use the rhythms of the day to infuse inspiration into our lives. Rather than check email or social media (or, even worse, the news), begin the day with something that lifts us up, such as music, inspirational reading, meditation, a walk, or a few yoga poses. When we take a break during the day (and you are taking breaks, right?), use that time for further inspiration—flip through a magazine with beautiful images, get out in nature if possible. Even five minutes away from “to do” will help. At bedtime, we can turn off all our screens and end the day with the practice of writing down good things that have happened or what we are grateful for. Keeping our minds constantly tuned to what inspires us will help us through times of stress, struggle and change.

Inspiration looks different for everyone. Some of my sources of inspiration include the “Acoustic New Age” radio station on Pandora; my Pinterest boards Truth, Beautiful, and Isn’t That Cool?; blogs like Zen Habits , and inspirational speakers like Brendon Burchard.

What inspires you? Compile your own list of people, places, quotes, etc., you can use to inspire yourself every day—and please share in the comments section!

Inspired by paralympian Lauren Barwick