Tag Archives: goals

As I write this, I am sitting perched above a gorgeous home in the Hollywood Hills. I’ve got a great view of the city – of Santa Monica and Century City and the palatial homes sitting above the 101 freeway.

It’s really the perfect environment to write. It’s quiet, save for the soft hum of the freeway. It’s absolutely beautiful. I have a block of time squared away for just this – writing.

And yet I’m struggling. I’m finding it so hard to focus and get words on the page

I recently read Steven Pressfield’s “Turning Pro”, in which he speaks at length about the difference between professionals and amateurs. More specifically, he notes the different habits between the two groups.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I know I still sit squarely in the “amateur” camp. I don’t take my desire or whatever talent I may possess very seriously most of the time.

In the book, Steven talks about the moment he turned pro. And the moment Roseanne Cash turned pro. And a few other examples of those key, pivotal times that people who knew they had a greater obsession, a fervent passion, went from being amateurs to being professionals. Steven notes that you’ll remember the moment you turned pro in the same way that you remember the moment you first heard about the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

I was so fired up when I finished the short book (and I highly recommend it!). I was almost sure that reading that book may have even been my “turning pro” moment; that perhaps I had suddenly made the internal switch from amateur to pro and would magically have the habits to support it.

It’s been a few days and I still think I have work to do. I suppose every day, even as a pro, you have work to do, but I know I haven’t yet rid myself of my amateur habits.

Last Friday night, I had the perfect opportunity to write. It was the first time in a long time that I had nothing to do and nowhere to go on a Friday night and it felt incredible. Freeing. There were so many things I wanted to do: I wanted to do laundry, I wanted to organize my room, I wanted to pack for a weekend trip to Palm Springs, I wanted to finish writing our wedding thank you notes, I wanted to wash and restraighten my hair, I wanted to read some of Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit”, and most of all, I wanted to write.

But I didn’t do any of it. Seriously, not any of it.

I had three (at least) glasses of wine, looked at way too many pictures on Facebook, half-watched TV, and passed out in bed around 11pm. Not exactly the activities of a professional writer.

And it’s hard not to get down on myself when this happens. It’s hard not to wonder if I just don’t have this in me and I will always be the amateur on the outside looking in.

But I know I am smart and I know I am capable and I know I can get things done when I need to: I do it every day at work and in many areas of my personal life as well.

I may not yet be the “professional” writer, but I know that I want to be. I know that I want it so bad, it’s all I can think about for a good portion of my day, every day. And I am acutely aware of the difference between where I am now and where I want to be. I can make up that difference. I can make greater strides and try harder and do better. And sometimes, I’ll drink three glasses of wine and spend way too much time looking through the Facebook photos of someone I barely knew in high school instead. That’ll be unfortunate, and I’ll be pissed at the opportunity squandered, but it won’t be an indication that I need to stop; that I need to give up.

I fear I may always have some amateur habits, or that I’ll sometimes still slip back into them. But from what I learning, the professional in me won’t see that as an opportunity to stop. I won’t turn back.

I want to write. I am a writer.

On our honeymoon, I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. And it was phenomenal. I think it helps to love books in the personal development/self-help/non-fiction genre, but truly I think anyone interested in breaking poor habits and sustaining good ones (or anyone interested in psychology generally) would love this book as much as I did.

Just a few of the books I read on our honeymoon...

In the book, Duhigg describes the "habit loop". The habit loop consists first of a cue ("a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use"), then of a routine (this can be physical, mental, or emotional), then of a reward (if you like the reward, your brain decides to automate this loop for the future!). As Duhigg describes it: "Over time, this loop - cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward - becomes more and more automatic." We continue performing the routine that we've associated with the cue, because we believe it gets us that reward. Duhigg also notes that there's no secret formula for quickly changing habits, but it helps to dissect and identify the different parts of this loop: first, identify your routine, then you experiment with rewards, then you isolate the cue or the trigger that is setting the entire loop in motion. Interestingly, Tim Ferriss (a great resource on quickly learning new skills) also advocates for what he calls "sequencing", wherein you master proficiency by reordering your thinking - or learning the skill backwards or the opposite of how you'd expect to. (Note: Tim has a one-page "list-icle" about this - and other tactics for mastering new skills - in the October '13 issue of Women's Health, if you're interested!). It seems to me, that sequencing is very nearly what Duhigg is suggesting as he breaks down the most simple and effective way to diagnose and change a bad habit.

So, of course, as soon as I put the book down, I immediately started testing out the cycle on my own habits, and Aaron's too. I first listed three of my bad habits, according to me (1. Communicating negatively/impatiently with Aaron, 2. My lack of healthy eating/exercise, 3. Drinking wine too regularly), then asked Aaron to list three of his own. He had a really difficult time with this (apparently, Aaron's quite pleased with all of his habits as they are), so he picked two and I chose the last one: 1. Being more reactive than proactive, 2. Being indecisive, 3. Farting incessantly in front of his new wife.

Following that, I tested Duhigg's framework on each of my bad habits. (Aaron, understandably, no longer wanted to play with me and had since gone off in search of another Mythos.)

The Habit Loop (via Charles Duhigg)

I made the most progress deconstructing my bad habit of not exercising. And by "not exercising", I mean mostly not varying from a sedentary position. Pretty much ever. I hate it - both the fact that I don't exercise and the actual act of exercising. Once I'd diagnosed my bad habit (the easy part), I tried to identify my routine: I get up in the morning, I usually (/always - sorry, mom!) skip breakfast, I work all day, I get home late and I'm tired, I play with my puppy, I work some more (often accompanied by wine; see Bad Habit #3 above), I'll maybe watch some TV or read my book, and I'll pass out. Though there are variations, that pretty much sums up my 24-hour cycle on a regular basis. You'll note there's zero percent exercise throughout.

So, rewards. What could possibly be rewarding about this routine? ALSO EASY. My routine, as it stands, allows for: relaxation after a long/tiring day, time to get more work done, the opportunity to zone out and/or be lazy, a chance to catch up on all of the television shows you kids tweet about or (much more likely) my latest book, and on some occasions, this routine - by not forcing me awake for early morning exercise - allows me to sleep in.

Now, my cues: what are those triggers that put my routine in motion that then (possibly) give me the rewards described above? Well, sometimes I wake up too late or I'll go to bed late. More often than not, I get home from work very late and I'm exhausted. My first instinct is to sit down on my couch when I get home - at which point I'm much more likely to drag my laptop or my puppy or my remote into my lap than I am to get up and be active. And, almost always, I drink wine.

So now I have a lot of different options - any number of the above cues might set my routine in motion, in the hopes that I'll garner one of the rewards also noted above. The question is - which reward am I getting that's made my loop concrete? Which reward is the one that I don't want to lose, so I continue to follow my habit loop over and over again?

According to Duhigg, that's the part we have to figure out - because once you can isolate that reward, you can come up with new habits that lead you to the same conclusion. For instance, if the reward for me is relaxing or getting even more work done after I get home, maybe I need to practice exercising before work in the morning, so I can spend my evenings doing whatever I want. Or perhaps the reward for me is sleeping in a bit later - in which case, I'll want to try exercising after work and going to bed earlier, so I don't feel deprived of sleep or forced to wake up earlier. You have to test each reward until you've found what it is you're really searching for by performing a habit over and over again - and what new, positive habit can take its place.

I haven't quite figured it out yet - for the poor habits I listed above, or any of the myriad bad habits I'd like to change. But that's okay. I know I can only successfully change or develop one habit or skill at a time (that's an important tenet of one of my personal favorites, Maneesh Sethi's, philosophy), and I feel incredibly empowered by the knowledge The Power of Habit gave me and my understanding of how to make any positive personal change at all.

If you're interested in more information about habit formation and change, first, read this book. Duh. I didn't type all of this for nothing. I also highly recommend the other two resources I mentioned: Tim Ferris (particularly his book, The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life) and Maneesh Sethi (of "Hack the System" fame). They both speak more about gaining skills than changing habits, but much of their advice works for both. I absolutely love this sort of information, so you can expect to hear a lot more from me on the topic too.

Now you: If you could change just one of your habits, what would it be? (Hint: If you fart incessantly in front of your partner, that's a great place to start.)

My mom always used to say: "You better learn to watch what you eat. One day you won't be able to eat like you do now."

The "now" she was referring to was sometime in high school. Back then I was playing volleyball everyday and eating whatever the hell I wanted. When I wasn't playing, I would go to the gym. Chicks liked that sort of thing, right? When I wasn't playing or going to the gym, I was probably eating. During my growth spurts in early high school, I could eat 5 meals a day. No joke. My parents deserve sainthood just for being able to keep the refrigerator full back then.

Now I'm close to 30, and I can feel my metabolism slowing down. These days I'm not a huge fan of the gym so I have to find other ways to keep active, and somehow maintain a demanding work schedule at the same time. I still play hockey, but only once a week (if I'm lucky) and that isn't nearly enough. So, to exercise, I'll take the dog for a walk or go running a few times a week.

But even running once or twice a week seems daunting. I'm out of the house by 7am, drive an hour+ to and from work and by the time I'm home, it's 7pm and I haven't even changed out of my slacks yet. It seems my only reasonable choices are to go running or cook dinner. Often, the latter wins just because eating at 9 or 10pm, though very European, doesn't exactly work on a regular basis.

My point is that exercise is a priority that's not often high on a lot of people's to-do list (or doesn't seem to fit into their schedule), especially for Jenna and I. Which means my mom was right all those years ago: Now, more than ever, I am going to have to watch what I eat.

Heart disease actually runs in my family, but I also love all that is holy in this world in edible form: burritos, pizza, pasta, burgers, beer, cheese, beer, wine and beer. I know I can't live a long and fruitful life and also have a steady diet of all the above so it's time to make some changes.

I'm the cook at home and I'm always looking for new and exciting things to eat that also won't kill you when you take a bite. Cooking to me is relaxing, so while I like to cook the comfort food, I've been trying to cook on the healthier side for some time now. I don't have specific goals, like losing weight. My goal is just to not die or have a heart attack in the next 30 years.

Jenna is a goals-oriented person, which means she needs action steps and follow through like whoa, but she also struggles with eating healthily. So she put me in charge of the "eating healthy and exercising more" program at the Arak household. This week I've made a variety of healthy meals without bread or carbs, and made enough portions to include leftovers in lunches the following day. It helps knowing that my wife's not eating mac and cheese for lunch every day (because she will), but it also helps the wallet because eating out every day is expensive as shit.

I've also gotten plenty of veggies and fresh herbs to cook with. It's really amazing how much better food tastes when it's fresh and not from a can or jar. In addition to cooking with fresh veggies, snack time has taken on a whole new meaning recently. I've made "snack packs" for each of us whenever we get hungry throughout the work day and it's not quite a meal time yet. A snack pack is made up of cucumbers, bell peppers, and baby carrots all mixed together in a sandwich bag that's packed as tight as a sardine can. Put a snack pack together with some leftover healthy dinner from the night before and you've got yourself a healthy, pretty cheap set of food for the day.

Snack Packs

That's the easy part.

The hard part is actually doing it. The harder part is making a schedule and sticking to it. And the hardest part is eating what's good for you and not that Domino's Pizza that can be at your door in 30 mins because you're exhausted. I'll be the first to admit, sometimes I just don't feel like cooking or doing something active. The trick is to try and not have that happen too often.

I'd like to run at least 3 times per week, but that's a pretty aggressive goal so I'd settle for two or even once a week right now. But fitness isn't just for me, it's for Jenna as well, and especially for both of us to do together. Jenna hates running. I'm fairly certain she'll never enjoy it as much as I do. So running together isn't an option because, when we do, I'm always going to be faster than her, so we really aren't doing it together. Enter Teigen Jane Arak. This adorable puppy has tons of energy and happens to love walks. So we'll walk her together after work. Since she's only five pounds, she gets tired pretty quickly so we have a cool little shoulder harness we can put her in so we can keep walking.

The goal is to walk for 30 minutes, at a minimum. This gives us a couple things: 1) Exercise 2) Quality time 3) Quality conversation. Some of the best conversations we've had as a couple have been taking walks and just unplugging for a few minutes after work.

In a perfect world, healthy eating and exercise are easy. But in the real world, we have beer, burritos, and cheese, so it's easier said than done. If you know of any delicious, healthy recipes, please feel free to share!

Until then, if someone could come up with the "Beer & Burrito Diet" that would make our lives a whole hell of a lot easier.

We have two very big financial goals over the next year: 1) to pay off our debt and 2) to save up a down payment on a house.

Looking at our goals now, 365 days (or less!) from when I hope they'll be accomplished, it seems like an incredibly daunting and unrealistic task. But both Aaron and I are pretty determined to do it, and we've made some tough (for me) decisions to make it happen. To begin with, we'll be moving out of our adorable apartment at the end of this month and moving in with my mom. This has been the hardest change for me to come to terms with, even though it will undoubtedly be the only way we meet our goals within our timeframe.

I should say first that I think we're incredibly lucky for several reasons: 1) My mom is willing to let us move back in and only pay our share of utilities, food, etc., 2) My mom has enough extra room that we'll have our own bedroom and living room, separate from the rest of the house, 3) My mom is 100% the best person I know and the best roomie I've ever had, so we have no qualms about living under the same roof yet again. I'm so thankful for these things and I'm so glad that we have this option - there isn't a second, throughout this entire process, where I haven't been reminded of how lucky we are and how much this will help us get to where we want to be much faster than we ever could on our own.

On the other hand, I've struggled with it because, of course, it feels like a step back to me. Who wants to spend their first year of married life living with their parents? I have been struggling (and continue to struggle) with my pride, my concern over what people will think, my jealousy towards our peers who have already gotten to where we want to be (even if often through the monetary support of their parents), and my fear that we may not even be where we want to be after a year. Every single friend I've shared this news with has ensured me that I am being silly and that this is really a very good move for us. Deep down, I know that, but I'm still learning how to come to terms with it on my own.

I've decided that one really great way to acclimate to the move is to make our two rooms in my mom's house really ours. We started this weekend, in my childhood bedroom, by painting over the blood red paint on the walls (it was "Surfboard Yellow" before that; clearly, I had a very colorful childhood) and changing the hue to a gorgeous, mature light gray color we decided to call "Charcoal Mist". It was A LOT of work, especially given we were working during one of the hottest weekends of the summer with no air conditioning. But I absolutely love the finished product.

Red Room


Red Room Primer


Aaron Loves Jenna Graffiti


Charcoal Mist


Finished Product


I'm realizing, slowly but surely, that meeting big goals and making up for past mistakes (like debt; debt is a BIG mistake, you guys) means making sacrifices and accepting that you only get big results from big changes. But I'm also realizing that I really will be able to make another happy home here for a short while - a new home, with my new husband - and, if this is the "worst" of the changes I have to make, I've got it pretty good.


I spent the majority of our honeymoon reading books and planning out the next phase of our life (and drinking copious amounts of wine). This might not sound particularly relaxing to a lot of people, but personal development and planning and organization and notebooks (and wine) are sincerely the sum of my favorite things and activities in this world.

For two straight weeks, I thought carefully about the five most important categories of my life: Love // Family // Friends// Work // Life. And then I thought what might make each of these categories better, more fulfilling, to me. I gave consideration to the components of my ideal life and how I'd like to feel on a regular basis. It might sound hippie-dippie to a lot of people (that's fine; it is), but it was incredibly stimulating and enriching to me. After several months of nonstop activity and stress, the two weeks of our honeymoon felt like a mental, emotional, and physical respite and I took full advantage of it.

Aaron is not nearly as into personal development and education as I am, but he appreciates growth and positive change and keeping his hippie-dippie wife happy. We spent a lot of the honeymoon planning together. We planned out the next steps in our careers, in our health, in our finances, and our living situation. We even talked about our timeline for BABIES (the word BABIES will always be in all-caps, because that's how I say it in my mind - with all-caps-like exuberance)! We talked about the risks we'd like to take and the changes we'd like to make. We talked about how to be better partners to each other (even only a few days into our marriage) and how to be better family members, friends, coworkers, and eventually parents. We made big plans, not because we have significant problems with who we are now, but because we know we can be (and always desire to be) better - for each other, if for no one else.

I'm excited to share some of our plans here on the blog with you: our plans to eat better and exercise more (Aaron is leading this charge, as I know I am incapable of doing it on my own), our plans to pay off our debt and have a down payment for a house saved up in one year, our plans to consciously change bad habits and develop/encourage new ones, and our plans to actively support, sustain, and nourish our marriage.

I'm excited to share it all, because we're more than aware that shit's going to be hard - and we need the accountability. The accountability, the support, and maybe the encouragement that our plans/struggles/victories are helpful to you too.