One Little Word: Shift

SHIFT: May Check In


When I started thinking about my word back in January, an image of a gearshift immediately came to mind. Back in January, I was very much taken by the notion of downshifting. Initially, I thought my focus this year would be all about allowing myself to shift into the lower gears . . . building some "white space" into my days, my calendar, my thinking. I wanted to be more "okay" with allowing myself the time to just rest or think or consider without feeling rushed or pressured. And over the cold months, I made quite good progress, allowing myself to downshift unapologetically and with grace.

But then came May.
And I was reminded of those times when it's all about shifting into HIGHER gear!

May has always been an explosive month for me, one that brings about significant lifestyle changes. Once it was school-driven with all those changes that the end-of-school/beginning-of-summer bring. But now that "school" isn't part of my life anymore, it's really just all the seasonal changes brought about by the arrival of warm weather -- the suddenly all-encompassing work in the garden, and the opening of our cabin up north. It's like . . . I'm rolling along in cold-weather-mode/wishing-for-spring and then WHAM! There I am . . . getting just what I wanted - but also having the wind knocked out of me a little bit.

Sometimes it's as much a struggle to shift into a higher gear as it is to shift into those lower gears!

Which reminds me of a story. . .

Way, way back in our Colorado days, Tom and I bought a used Ford Fiesta. It was a perfect car for us . . . except for one little detail: It had a manual transmission. And I didn't know how to drive a clutch. 


(This goofy 1982 photograph is one of the only photos we have that shows even a portion of that car. It's on the far right there, in the parking lot of our little Colorado apartment . . . the gold Ford Fiesta. I think it was a 1978?)

Anyway. Undaunted, Tom set out to teach me to drive the Fiesta. We started out in an empty parking lot where I could lurch-and-stall, lurch-and-stall (on repeat) without holding up traffic. Tom was very patient, and also a good teacher, but I was pretty frustrated by my inability to drive the thing. Over and over and over, Tom kept explaining "the friction point" (the point where you put the clutch in and then disengage the gears for just a fraction of a second while you shift the gears up or down; it's that moment when you either succeed in shifting -- or stall out completely). Driving a manual transmission is purely a "feel" thing, and at first . . . I was not feeling it! But I kept at it (highly motivated; I needed to drive myself to work after all), and it didn't take too long before . . .  I got it. Once I finally quit fighting and trying to force things - and just paid attention to what I was feeling - I realized I could just . . . tell . . . when I needed to shift gears. It was kind of magical, actually. I could still be in charge, but I needed to pay attention to what was going on (with the road, with the car, with the conditions) first.

This year, as I struggled with shifting into the "right" gear as May arrived in full force, I remembered those driving lessons and that whole "friction point" thing. I took a deep breath, pushed in the clutch . . . and shifted gears!

My lesson for the month: Sometimes it IS all about the downshifting (and bravo to me for getting more comfortable with that earlier this year). But sometimes, life definitely requires a higher gear! I need to pay attention to the road I'm on . . . and I'll just feel when I need to shift. Sure, there may be a little awkward lurching-and-stalling as I get back into the swing of switching gears, but if I pay attention to what's going on around me, I'll . . . know . . . when to shift.

It turns out Tom was right. It IS all about that "friction point" after all!



SHIFT: April Check-In

Speaking of poetry . . . 


Poetry and quotes and . . . just words, in general . . . play a big part in how I "document" my one little word process for myself each year. I'm always on the hunt for poems that capture the feelings and images of my word. Or quotes that sum up my thoughts. Or even just random  . . . word-bits (more on that later).

In March, Ali Edwards & gang even had a poem-writing prompt . . . which sounds right up my alley, but actually, I thought the prompt process was . . . on the hokey side (or, at least, for me). I did write a poem, though, which you can see on the left hand page of my "shift journal" here in this photograph. But . . . that's not what I'm writing about today.


Today I want to focus on the the right hand page there.
The collected "word bits." Which actually come together to make a poem. (If you read it all together and maybe squint a little.)

I am always clipping little . . . words and phrases . . . that catch my eye. Every now and then, I bring home a bunch of magazines I pick up at the book store or from the racks at the grocery store, or I go through random catalogs that come in the mail, and I flip through them . . . looking for photos or phrases that appeal. (I like to do collage in my art journals.) I store all the little word-bits in a small plastic bin . . . 


(Y'know. For someday!)

Every month, I sift through my little "stash" of word-bits and see if any are . . . particularly resonating with me. And if they are, I start fitting them together to make, well . . . I guess you could call them poems of sorts.

I end up creating at least one of these word-bit poems every year for my word journals. Sometimes, it takes me all year to complete one. Other years - like this one - it just takes me a few months. I started this one in January, adding phrases here and there, as I found just the right phrases. (I never work top-to-bottom. They just kind of . . . emerge, willy-nilly. Random-like.)

I think this one might be done? But, you just never know. (There's still plenty of space there. Should the just right word-bit appear.)


The trick is always to interpret the message behind the particular grouping of words! I think this one is telling me . . . to acknowledge and hold on to what's important while also paying attention to what might be deep in my heart.

I think I'm giving myself permission to . . . SHIFT.

SHIFT: March Check In


"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."
--- Diane Ackerman

As I started thinking about my word this year and how it might manifest in my life and what it might mean for me going forward . . . that quote from Diane Ackerman kept rattling around in my head, along with this phrase: You ain't getting any younger.

True words.
But somehow . . . accepting or even acknowledging those particular words can be, well, kinda discombobulating. But that's the path my brain was taking, so I decided to follow along and see where it would lead. 


I mean, I still feel young. I really do! But, at 62 (until tomorrow, that is), I know that the world considers me . . . an old lady, a "senior citizen," downright geriatric. And when you get right down to it, even if I live to be 100 (like my grandmother did!), I've lived most of my years already. This line of thinking made me realize that . . . I can no longer claim to have "my whole life ahead of me." (Nope. I'm afraid that train has left the station.) I do, though . . . have whatever's "left" of my life ahead of me.

And that, my friends, is a shift!


And, really, this is not a new thought pattern for me. I've been headed in this direction for a few years now (as I'm sure you've noticed, given my posts on aging and the whole 'fitness challenge' thing), so I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I'm . . . shifting . . . into thinking very intentionally about how I want to live whatever is left of my life.

I've known plenty of people (in fact, almost every grown-up in my life for all time) who fight getting older with a big dose of denial. Me? Not so much. I want to figure out how to maximize whatever time I've got left! I'm eager to figure out what I want to do, how I want to live, what I want to say, who I want to say it to, how I want to move, what I want to leave behind, how I want to prepare to move ahead.

So many things to think about! What a waste . . . to just bob along, passively aging and not putting any thought behind it!


I'm not sad or concerned or despairing here. Not at all. This is not meant to be a maudlin post. I'm just shifting my perspective a little. And only a smidge, really. I'm looking ahead with fresh eyes. I want to be prepared -- while also making sure that I don't waste a moment. I want to make all my days, all my months and years - however many - count. In short . . . 

I want to live my best life . . . for whatever's left of my life!

Which has become my "official" phrase-that-pays for this year of shift.

In February, the One Little Word prompt from Ali Edwards' OLW workshop was to create a vision board (the images in this post show my vision "board" - which is actually a series of fold-out pages in my shift-themed art journal). There was another part to the prompt, though, that inspired me even more. The OLW team asked, "What would your life look like if you were 'Living at a 10?'" Which sounds quite a lot like . . . the very thing I've been pondering! So I've been playing around with that question in my shift-journal, too.

I'm not even close to done . . . weighing, considering, thinking about that question.


It's a good one. And I'm hoping this year helps me forge my answer.


How about you? What would it look like for you . . . if you were "living at a 10?" (And isn't it fun to think about?)

Negativity Bias and The Angels of Traffic

So. Earlier this week, in my Shift update post, I mentioned my interest in “shifting narratives” this year. Now, that’s actually something I’ve been working on for a while now (last year -- you may remember this -- I started challenging deep-seated "arbitrary rules" I had set for myself), but I’m planning to get more serious about this kind of work in the coming year. I'm hoping to "shift narratives" by recognizing and identifying the negative "stories" I tell myself (y'know . . . those "stories" we all tell ourselves that hold us back and prevent us from moving forward), and try to do . . . something . . .  about them.

As I’m laying my groundwork for the work ahead, I’ve been doing a little reading . . . about negativity bias and how it impacts our lives. Negativity bias is our tendency to register (and dwell on) negative stimuli/events more readily than positive. This negativity bias means that we feel the sting of a rebuke more powerfully than we feel the joy of praise, for example. Turns out it’s actually something hardwired into human brains – from back in our cave-dwelling days when we needed alarm bells to go off in our heads whenever anything threatening happened. We don’t need those alarm bells so much anymore . . . but we can’t seem to shake the negativity bias that comes with them! (If you're interested, you can read more about the negativity bias in these articles here and here.)

Negativity bias . . . is really annoying. By focusing on the negative things - rather than the positive things - that happen in our day-to-day lives, we run the risk of mis-perceiving everyday situations, making bad decisions, misunderstanding our families and friends, and generally feeling “bad” and losing our optimism.

Fortunately, once we’re aware of negativity bias in our lives, there are ways to overcome it. 

Here’s a real-life example (from my life) for you . . . 


A few years ago (before the pandemic, so it’s been awhile), I noticed my growing frustration while driving because I was missing EVERY. SINGLE. GREEN. LIGHT. All the time. Whenever I was driving, I was always (always!) forced to sit at traffic lights. And it felt like they were changing JUST as I was driving up to the light. All the time. Every day. Super annoying; super frustrating.

But then I started wondering . . . was I actually missing all the lights all the time? So I decided to . . . try a different approach. I decided to pay attention and notice when the traffic lights worked in my favor – when I did make a green light, for example, or when the light stayed green as I approached the intersection. Whenever I experienced such “good” traffic light outcomes, I acknowledged them by saying - out loud - “Thank you Angels of Traffic!”

It didn’t take long before I realized I was thanking those “Angels of Traffic” quite a lot. Like . . . ridiculously a lot of the time; maybe even most of the time. 

What I had done . . . was, first, recognize my negative pattern (thinking all the lights were against me). Then I practiced a quick "activity" (the out loud thanking) each and every time I noticed my negative pattern NOT happening. This very small thing – thanking the “Angels of Traffic” – was enough for me to break the pattern and shift my narrative about traffic lights.

This experience illustrated a couple of important lessons for me. First, that I certainly do entertain negative biases in my day-to-day life. And second, that I can counter those negative biases if I pay attention to my negative patterns with some sort of "plan." If it can work for my attitude about traffic lights (and it really has made a huge difference in my driving attitude -- and I'm still thanking the "Angels of Traffic"), imagine what else I might be able to conquer!

So . . . thank you, “Angels of Traffic” . . . for helping me confront my own negativity bias, and for setting the stage for my deeper work ahead!


Have you ever noticed your own negativity bias? And have you ever tried to shift it?



I feel that I need to add this note, based on several comments I received on my original post yesterday.

I am aware that many traffic lights are timed and controlled by flow-cameras. I do not think that "angels of traffic" are changing the lights for me. My post is not about religion or superstition or other strange powers; it's about psychology. It's about how I nudged myself to NOTICE how often the traffic lights are green, even though it felt to me like they were "always" red. That's what negativity bias does: it makes you aware of the negative things (in this case red lights) while downplaying the postitive things (in this case green lights).

The point of my post is this: Once I became aware of my own negativity bias (in only noticing the red lights), I was able to shift my attitude by intentionally noticing the green lights by saying the silly phrase (which I totally made up on the fly) "thank you angels of traffic." I could easily have chosen the phrase "bippityboppityboo" or "green light." ANY phrase would have had the same effect. I was just triggering my brain to NOTICE that I was hitting a green light.

And . . . that's a powerful thing. Because if I could get myself to notice how I (not literal "angels of traffic") have the power to shift my negativity bias, it helps me imagine that I may be able to tackle some of my other more insidious demons using a similar technique: identification, awareness, and a plan for noticing/countering them. (And I'm not talking about literal "demons," but those negative stories I have told myself on repeat over the years.) (And we all have them.)




SHIFT: February Check In


"Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time."               
                                            – Naomi Shihab Nye


Another month nearly over . . . 
Time to peek in again and see how things are going with my one little word: Shift.

Usually by the end of the second month of the year, I've discovered a basic plan for my word. Or, at least, an idea or a direction to head off in to get things rolling. This year? Not so much! I feel a little . . . wilder . . . with this particular word than I have any of my words in the past. I'm not sure why that is, but it feels . . .  about right. I'm excited about this wildness. Not concerned. Or daunted. (Either it will come together. Or it won't.)

I've been thinking a lot about . . . definitions and semantics. Especially when it comes to the difference between the word change . . . and my word shift. While they seem to be interchangeable, they really . . . aren't.

The word change, by definition, is to "make different, to alter or modify" or "to replace something with something else." Shift has another meaning altogether. Shift is "to move or to cause something to move to a different place or position." The difference is a subtle one, but - for me - it's an important distinction. Shift . . . is not moving in a different direction (not altering, modifying, or replacing), it's . . . moving, sure -- but moving differently. (Same direction, different speed, for example.)

I spent last year considering my roots -- where I was, what gave me strenth, what supported me. I'm generally happy . . . right where I am. I'm not looking for a "transplant" (that would be a change). I'm looking to "convert" the stored energy from my roots so I can keep growing --  strong, with new roots and shoots and blooms. And that? That's a shift

I may not have a specific plan in mind for the year yet, but I do know I'm interested in . . .

  • shifting gears
  • shifting focus
  • shifting roles
  • shifting energy
  • shifting narratives

Moving in the same direction. Just . . . differently.
Subtle. But intentional.
Stay tuned!

(I did find some perfect new earrings . . . )



How about you? If you have a word this year, how are you doing? 


SHIFT: January Check-In

"Life is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope - a slight change, and all patterns alter."
            --- Sharon Salzberg


Here we are, nearing the end of January. Time to check in! Let's see how things are going for me and my 2022 word so far.

At this point, my word and I are in that . . . getting-to-know-you phase of things. It's the beginning of a year-long relationship, after all, and it's still new for us. We've been hanging out together a lot. Getting a feel for things. Testing the waters. Establishing our boundaries.

You know.
Those early-relationship kinds of things.


There are so many places we want to go; so many things we'd like to try, but it's still too early to tell how things are going to work out. One thing, though, is really resonating for us right now.



Yeah. It might sound a little weird, but I've always had A Thing for kaleidoscopes. Which is why I keep one on my desk. Because they're kind of magical. And fun to have around. It's nice to pick one up to play with whenever you feel a little . . . stuck.

You know.
Like when you need to . . . shift.

So my word and I? We've decided to just take things slowly here for awhile at the beginning of the year. We're moving cautiously, and we'll see what happens next.


(It's really hard to take a picture through the peep-hole in a kaleidoscope with your cell phone. Just sayin.)

I think we're off to a fine start.
(Especially when one of us is - by definition - always on the move!)


"Life, on this Earth may be likened to a great Kaleidoscope before which the scenes and facts and material substances are ever shifting and changing and all any man can do is to take these facts and substances and re-arrange them in new combinations."
                --- Napoleon Hill


How about you? If you've chosen a word for the year, how are things going for you and your word so far?




A Word ... for the Zeitgeist

Late last fall, I was out in my garden.
Pulling weeds.
And thinking about how we are living in a Zeitgeist moment. 

What IS a Zeitgeist, exactly? Well . . . essentially, it's the spirit of a generation or a period of time. So, yeah. THIS . . . whatever it is we're living through right now?

These have been weird times, for sure.
Unprecendented, as they say.
Pretty much every single thing and way of being for us . . . has changed since March 2020. And most of those changes have been out of our hands, out of our control. We've just responded. Because we had to. Or needed to.

Back in my garden last October, I started thinking about all the ways I've changed (because haven't we all), BUT I was also aware of something else, another feeling altogether. I could tell that I was allowing myself to . . . 


Change happens. But shifting? It's deliberate. And intentional.

Way back in October, my One Little Word for 2022 just showed up as an epiphany.


I've never had a word just show up for me like this one did. And so early, too! I think it's going to be an interesting year.


"Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same. . . "
            -- The Wallflowers, One Headlight


This week, as one-little-worders started revealing their words for the year, I anticipated that there might be others choosing words that reflected this Zeitgeist moment . . . change, shift, adapt. And I was right! Juliann and I share the word SHIFT this year, which I think is very special and pretty cool. In fact, I can't quite imagine another blogger I'd rather share a word with. Juliann is very thoughtful and intentional about exploring her words, so I can't wait to see what we discover. I know my experience will be richer . . . sharing this word with someone I know and admire.