On The Level: Staying On Track / Getting Back At It

Words: Jude Nosek

Words and Photos: Jude Nosek

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. –Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I am very fortunate to have a few groups of people with whom I meet regularly to share my life experiences. They provide me with much needed clarity, practicality and accountability for my choices, my actions and my evaluations of myself (my judgments). I have chosen and I cultivated different groups and gathered individuals from all walks of life. These groups are formed around common interests, like goals, faith, hobbies, friendships, etc. What is fun and interesting for me is that I see and collect tools, techniques and strategies from all these groups and apply them in my life. I get to learn how a nurse employs this tool or that, which often varies from how a police officer might employ those same tools or interpret the same strategy. So, as I listen to their descriptions and experience, I can glean ideas to employ for myself. What’s more I can share my own, which scratches my “need to be useful” itch. 

The topic of failure (and judgment about that failure) came up recently. As we are about a month past New Year’s Day, (a traditional Day of Change) I thought I could share a bit about what works for me. On or around New Year’s, many of us make resolutions to tackle a new challenge, change a bad habit or incorporate a new orientation into our lives. 

I applaud all who decide to change, and I stand up and cheer for those who take action to make those changes. 

Change is not easy. It’s about the hardest thing we can do. I am by no means an expert in change. I am an expert in my life and my experiences, and in what’s worked for me. I have made some changes in my life that have stuck. Others, haven’t. I have some practices that I choose to engage in that make my time and my life feel rich and full. I employ what Max Ehrmann called “a gentle discipline” in his work Desiderata, which helps. Meeting with others and sharing my experiences, hopes, failures and successes helps. Below are a number of suggestions for changing that I have employed and that have worked for me. Perhaps you can find a way to use them or something similar. In my experience, having lots of options helps me find the one that works best for this project, at this time. 

I guess that would be the first one: Gather lots of tools and techniques. Practice them before you need them. 

One of my techniques is to ask people “What’s the best advice you’re ever received?” One of my favorite answers came from woman who suggested, “Don’t be afraid to set aside a system that is no longer working. Find another.” 

I am going to use Negative Self Talk as the example, because that was an aspect of my life that was not working. 

Identify what’s not working.

I spend a lot of my time processing information with the written word. I have for my entire professional career. If I run into a topic that needs addressing—defining, clarifying, changing, etc.—I grab a pen and piece of scratch paper from my pile and I start sketching, writing, drawing, etc. to capture the concept and start to map a possible solution. 

A few months ago, I reached for a pen from my cup of writing tools on my desk. I grabbed a pencil instead and when I noticed, I heard a voice amid my other thoughts whisper “idiot.” As if under a spell, I repeated the word out loud to myself. 

“Idiot,” I said as I shoved the pencil back. 

My son, was in the room with me and overheard me. “What?” he said, “Are you talking to me?” And I went cold. 

I caught my breath. “No, I was talking to myself.” And I explained what had happened. 

“Wow. Simple mistake. You don’t deserve that,” he said. He was right. 

I got to thinking, “What am I doing to myself? How often am I doing this?” 

The answer was shocking. 

Measure it.

I am fortunate to be part of a company that makes measuring and marking tools. Among them are tally meters and I had one in my drawer. That first day, I counted 56 times — that I noticed — I was cutting myself down. 

My Inner Critic was mocking, criticizing, belittling, insulting, and undermining me CONSTANTLY. 

It turns out I have quite a nasty, abusive, aggressive Inner Critic who lives in my head and loves to undermine me. If I talked to others in the workplace the way I was talking to myself, I would be reported to HR. If others talked to me the way I was talking to myself, I would find a way to make changes in the organization so that I did not have to deal with them or help them find their way to the door. 

When I turned my attention to what was happening and started to track it, things got better very quickly. 

Share your experience and ask for help. 

I shared my experience with a few friends and asked for their advice. I used a few tactics to implement change. One was when I notice negative, I say, “Thank you. That’s not helpful,” and refocus my efforts back to healthier self-talk. Another suggestion was to keep a picture of myself as a kid on my desk and pretend I was talking to him. I did that, too. Pretty sweet shirt, right? (1977-8, no “South of 40” participation for me).

KISS: Keep it simple, superstar! Change one thing. 

This acronym has been in my life since I began working. I learned it as, “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” which may have contributed to the Negative Self Talk. Today, I use “superstar” because it’s funnier and I am tired of judging myself as stupid, especially when I’m trying my best.


I am happy to report my negative self-talk is significantly down. As a process for making change, these elements might be of use to you. 

We have today. We cannot change the past, but we can begin again. It takes courage to change. A friend used the phrase “Life Inertia” to describe how she was on one track for her life, and it seemed like it would be difficult and even dangerous to try to change. “I am already rolling along this path, I don’t know how to jump over to that the one I think I want.”  

Here are some of the resources I found helpful:

Quotes. There are so many good quotes on change! Here are a few.

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living." –Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

"Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible." –St. Francis Of Assisi

"If you do not change direction, you might end up where you are heading." –Lao Tzu

"If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude." –Maya Angelou

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." – Theodore Roosevelt

"The best way to predict the future is to create it." – Abraham Lincoln

"Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try." – Gail Devers


The No Asshole Rule, Robert Sutton: mostly for business, AND can be applied to the “critic in my head” 

Nudge, Thaler. Small moves, big results. Behavioral economics. Featured on Freakanomics.

Peak, A. Erikson, R. Pool about the necessity of practice Smarter, faster, better, Duhigg. How to be better at the things you want to take on.

TED Talks

What it takes to make change - J. Novogratz

Small steps for a big change - Doug Snyder

Making decision to make change - B. Kask, D. Kim

New Choices over safe choices - Aden Nepom

Making personal change means making change personal - Scott Azar

Embracing Change - Marco Marsans

Making Change Stick - Nigel Parker

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