Category Archives: Spiritual Stuff

What’s Your Tendency?

Today I bring you this morning’s emailed reflection for the Healthy Holiday Streak, written by Melissa Kennedy, my partner in streaking and owner of Everyday Balance Health Coaching. I thought it was so helpful, I wanted other people to read it.

If you haven’t signed up for the streak, it’s not too late. Sign up today and I will send you all of the posts you’ve missed. We still have several weeks to go–lots of time to set a good intention or two for this hectic season.

Take it away, Melissa:


One challenge with regard to developing and maintaining healthy habits is that we are all different: what seems like best practice to one person can be counterproductive for someone else. So when MaryAnn and I write these messages, we try to keep in mind that not everyone looks at change in the same way that we do.

Gretchen Rubin, a writer who focuses on happiness and habit change, has created a personality framework which she calls the Four Tendencies. While this isn’t a scientifically validated framework, it resonates with me and provides some interesting insights into why certain habit-change strategies do or do not work for me.

The Four Tendencies are based on how we respond to internal obligations, commitments made to oneself, and also to external obligations, like a work deadline.

  • Upholders keep all commitments, whether made to themselves or to others. Habit change may come easily to Upholders, but they have to be cautious not to over-commit themselves.
  • Obligers always meet external expectations, but struggle with commitments made to themselves. They can really struggle with changing health-related behaviors unless they create some sort of external accountability system–like our Streak!
  • Questioners, as you might guess, question everything, especially authority. They push back against external commitments until or unless they become convinced that what they are being asked to do makes sense–then they turn it into an internal commitment and honor it.
  • And Rebels push back against all commitments, even the commitments they make to themselves. They want to do what they want to do in the moment. Needless to say, this can make habit change hard! The motto Rubin gives for Rebels is “You can’t make me, and neither can I.”

None of the Tendencies are better or worse than any of the others–they each have their own advantages and pitfalls. But understanding how you respond to internal vs. external commitments can lead to very useful insights about what habit change strategies will and will not work well for you.

Your Tendency may be obvious to you after reading the descriptions above, but if not, check out the quiz on Rubin’s website.

Me? I’m a Questioner. I’m generally a rule-follower… but I am driven up the wall by rules that don’t make sense. I sometimes frustrate myself by not following through on things that I think I’m committed to… but in hindsight I almost always realize that I had never completely bought in. And I finally understand why my devil’s-advocate questioning of new ideas can be perceived as negativity.

Today’s Question: Which Tendency do you identify with? (Take the quiz if you aren’t sure!) What insights does that lead to?

Stop by the Facebook event if you would like to chat about Tendencies! (Maybe MaryAnn will reveal hers…)



Sign up for the streak and get a copy of all the posts through today.

Welcome to the Streak!

Note: The Healthy Holiday Streak begins today! Here’s the first reflection to get people started. All future posts will be sent to the email list only. Not too late to join! Register for the streak here.

We’re so excited you’re joining us on this adventure! Many of our daily reflections will be short and sweet, but today’s is a little more in-depth to help ensure you get off to a good start.

First thing is for you to define your streak. What makes a good goal, you ask?

  1. It’s small. Remember, this is something you will strive for every day. Don’t set yourself up for failure by picking something unrealistic.
  2. It’s within your control. Focus on things that you have the power to achieve. For example, instead of “get eight hours of sleep each night,” decide you’ll turn off the screens and unwind at a certain time each evening.
  3. It connects with a deeper sense of purpose or well-being. This is not a time for “should” or conforming to others’ expectations. What will help YOU embrace this season with a sense of well-being and joy?
  4. It needs a day off… or it doesn’t. Some of us are abstainers–we need to go all in on a habit, and if we “cheat a little,” we’ll fall off the wagon completely. Others of us are moderators–if we don’t give ourselves a little wiggle room, we’ll start to resent our goal*. Decide if you intend to follow through every day, or if you’ll do better with one streak-free day each week–and which one it will be.

Now, the good stuff!

Suggested Focus Areas for Goals

  • Exercise/Movement Each Day (how about dancing?)
  • Food/Nutrition
  • Saying No and Letting Go
  • Meditation and Gratitude
  • Sleep
  • Play and Recreation
  • Participation in Art and Beauty
  • Healthy Online Habits
  • Connecting with Loved Ones

Last Step: Accountability!

Here’s the bad news. When people set goals for themselves, there’s a pretty small chance they’ll follow through. Like, a 6-8% chance.

But guess what? The chance increases to 30% when you write the goal down. (So go do that!)

AND it increases to 60% when you tell someone about it**. So grab a friend and streak together. And head to our Facebook event and share what your streak will be. We can’t wait to cheer you on.

And we’ll be streaking too: Melissa’s streak will be focused on sleep–she is committing to a specific lights-out time each night, as well as a devices-off time 60 minutes before lights-out. MaryAnn will be choosing a different practice each week–this week, it’s a brief gratitude list at the end of each day. Each Monday we’ll report how our own streaks are going–including our stumbles–so we can all get recommitted for another week of streaking.

The next few days will be preparation for the streak, with the official streak starting on Thanksgiving (or the day after, your choice). But if you’re ready to start today, please do!

Today’s Question: Given today’s guidance, what will your streak be?

Until tomorrow!
MaryAnn McKibben Dana and Melissa Kennedy

Check out author Gretchen Rubin for more on abstainers and moderators.

Statistics on goal-setting are from the book Goal Setting: a Motivational Technique that Works by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham.


Image is from George Deputee on Flickr and used via Creative Commons Modify Non-Endorse License.

To Be Creative

Happy November!
(My favorite month, featuring my favorite holiday.)

Lots of stuff cooking in the Blue Room right now—my next newsletter will include an announcement about a project I’ll be offering free to readers between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Stay tuned.

And my next book, God, Improv, and the Art of Living, will be available for pre-order soon!

In the meantime, I’m catching up on reading, including a delightful book of memoir-ish essays, My Adventures with God by actor Stephen Tobolowsky, about his growing up Jewish in Dallas, Texas. (You may remember him as Ned Ryerson, the insurance agent in Groundhog Day.)

In his essay “The Garden on Orchid Lane,” Tobolowsky remembers receiving a gift of a painting set as a child. The lid of the box featured a picture of a beautiful garden. He took one look at the intricate image and handed it back, shaking his head. “I can’t do this,” he said.

His friend handed it back to him and said, “You can do it, Stevie. It’s easy. It’s Paint-by-Numbers. Open it up.”

Tobolowsky continues:

I took the plastic off the box and looked inside. There was a white canvas board. It was covered with little lines. It was like a map drawn with almost invisible ink. Inside each tiny area was a number. Sarah pulled out a brush and a plastic palette that had twenty small containers. Each container had a color, from the deepest green to the lightest shades of pink. Sarah explained, “Each paint has a number. All you have to do is match the number of the paint to the number on the drawing. Stay within the lines and you’ll have a beautiful picture.” She handed the top of the box to me. “Use the cover of the box as a guide. Follow the numbers. You can do it.”

The world felt generous. Someone else was the artist.
Someone else did all the work, but the picture could still be mine.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read about creativity, and almost all of them insist that we are all creative beings. I believe this is true… but I meet so many people who insist that they are not. A lot of what I do, whether through writing, speaking, or coaching, seems to be about helping people get in touch with that thread of creativity that runs through everything.

Reflecting on Tobolowsky’s words, I suspect the key to creative living is not to try to find the inspiration within oneself, but to see the world as a generous place, full of both guidance and color. Then our job gets much easier—to simply follow the generosity of the Artist… wherever it takes us.


Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.

Image is Paint by Numbers by Alex Watson and used through a creative commons license.

Everyday Bravery

Greetings from the fullness of fall! Late September through early November is one of the most lively times on my calendar, with events in Texas, Michigan, Georgia, and here in Virginia, working with groups to explore improvisation as a spiritual practice.

It’s been deeply satisfying work, with lots of belly laughs, aha moments, and even some goosebumps and tears, as people not only think about the world and their spiritual lives in a new way, but actually embody that new way through storytelling and play. (When’s the last time a theologian in residence program or continuing education event inspired deep, sustained, healing belly laughs, I ask you?)

Even deeper, though, is how humbling it is to hear people say, “Where have these ideas been all my life?” and “I have to have more of this.” It makes me all the more excited for the day when my book will finally be loose in the world. (Pre-order information coming soon!)

In the meantime, I am reading Brené Brown’s (pictured left) latest book, Braving the Wilderness, which I highly recommend as a powerful companion for improvisational living. Lots of quotable quotes, but this bit from Viola Davis (below) is infused with bravery, and well worth passing on.

Davis is an award-winning actress, and one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people, but she grew up in a household filled with trauma, dysfunction, and even violence. It’s been a lifelong process to heal from the wounds of her childhood. Brown asked her whether she had a practice for her own living these days, and here is what Davis offered:

1. I’m doing the best I can.
2. I will allow myself to be seen.
3. I apply the advice an acting coach gave me to all aspects of my life: Go further. Don’t be afraid. Put it all out there. Don’t leave anything on the floor.
4. I will not be a mystery to my daughter. She will know me and I will share my stories with her—the stories of failure, shame, and accomplishment. She will know she’s not alone in the wilderness.

This is who I am.
This is where I am from.
This is my mess.
This is what it means to belong to myself.

Amen, and may it be so for us all.

Peace, Joy, and Yes.

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.

Want to work on your own inner bravery? I do personal/professional coaching. Learn more here.

Focus on Form

A reflection about running, and also more than running.

This past weekend I was in Comfort, Texas, celebrating my brother’s recent marriage. As part of my training for an upcoming half marathon, and the Houston Marathon in January, I had a track workout scheduled for Saturday. I drove to Comfort High School a little before dawn to run some fast-for-me miles around the track (pictured above).

Speed workouts, like long runs, are a test of psychological strength as much as physical endurance. Around the 3/4 mark is when my energy and motivation always start to flag. I’ve learned a variety of mental tricks to keep going, and I needed them Saturday too. I was mentally thumbing through my list of favorite mantras and slogans when I remembered something I’d heard on a running podcast:

Beginning runners focus on the pain.
Intermediate runners focus on the mileage.
Advanced runners focus on form.

It’s definitely true for me. When I first started running several years ago and the going got tough, all I could think about was my burning lungs or stinging quads. (Pro-tip: focusing on the pain is not a good recipe for endurance.)

As I gained more experience on my feet—as an intermediate runner—I would focus on the miles: how far I’d come, how far I still had to go. If I was feeling good, that could be motivating: More than halfway through… Two-thirds done… Just a mile to go! If things were going poorly, however, it was a motivation-killer: You still have seven miles. You’ll never make it. Loser. Focusing on the mileage can be brutal in a race, especially if you’re a middle-of-the-pack runner like me: Lots of people have already finished, and you still have miles to go. And look at all these people passing you.

As for being an advanced runner, I don’t know whether I’ve achieved that milestone yet, but on Saturday morning I decided not to think about the pain, or where I was in my workout, but to focus on form.
Shoulders back and down.
Torso tall.
Quick feet.
Easy breath.
Arms bent at 90 degrees. 

It helped! The miles were still a tough effort, but I focused on myself—on what I could control, and the countless small adjustments that would make the remaining laps more bearable.

Later I pondered how this concept applies to life in general. When we’re in the midst of deep adversity, or even just an unexpected detour, what do we do? 
Do we fixate on the pain and negativity, until that’s all we can see?
Do we obsess over external factors beyond our control?
Or do we turn inward, breathe deeply, and focus on what we can change… namely, our own response?

This week’s shooting in Las Vegas—the most deadly in modern history—has offered an enormous, heartbreaking opportunity to practice this approach.

It’s natural and understandable to feel the full impact of that pain—to empathize with the 59 lost and 527 injured (so far), and their families and loved ones. I myself find it hard to turn away from the stories. But I also know that to focus on the pain to the exclusion of all else will consume me.

It’s also understandable, like the intermediate runner, to focus on the miles… to look around at our culture of violence, the sorry state of gun safety legislation, the dearth of mental health resources for people in need, or all of the above. Many of us wonder why the United States has such a shameful track record compared to other developed nations, and whether our political leaders will display any political wisdom or courage to make a change. I’ll be honest; I don’t see much reason to hope for progress right now.

What, then, is left? To focus on form. To care for myself and the people around me. To look inward, and make sure I am acting with the most integrity, wisdom, and compassion. To tend to my breathing. To do what’s mine to do. In my case, that means giving money and writing letters and making phone calls to Congress… and also showing up to work each day, and reading nourishing books, and eating food that’s good for me and for the earth.

To focus on form means to “run the race that is set before us,” as the author of the book of Hebrews wrote to the early church so long ago. I wish the terrain were different—less treacherous, less painful for body and soul. But the race is ours to run nonetheless.

I’m glad we’re running it together.

Fight back with beauty,

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.
Want to “work on your form,” as a runner or as a human being? I do running coaching and personal/professional coaching as well. Learn more here.