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Go Back to Go Forward

If you’re stuck in a rut, sometimes the best way to re-energize and motivate yourself (besides my old favorite, clean out a drawer) is to pull out some boxes and files of collected inspirational items or memorabilia and look through them. Get a cup of coffee, green tea or fresh juice and spend half an hour — or half a day if you have it — going through your past accomplishments, clippings that inspire you, photographs of great times or letters from friends and family.

As you go through these mementos and motivational clippings, why not toss anything that brings you down? An unflattering beach photo — who needs it? Letters from bad boyfriends? Not in my archives, thank you very much. Clippings of women in designer suits when you’re a stay-at-home mom? Unless you are planning to get back to work right away, toss these. When you are ready for career mode again, styles may have changed.

In a past column I explained my “Seven C’s” of organizing: Call/Calendar, Collect, Clear, Clean, Consider, Contain, Celebrate. Looking at our accomplishments falls under the Celebrate category.

Often, we are so quick to move on to the next thing, the next project, that we skip that important “celebration” aspect of a task. We come home from a wonderful trip but get sucked into emails and errands again and our photographs never get printed and put into albums. We finish a workout but skip the feel-good cool down and stretching to rush home to make dinner.

We complete a big work project and move on to the next one without honoring the successful outcome with a clean break — “thank-you” notes to colleagues, a celebratory drink or meal, a clearing of the desk and neatly filing and labeling the support materials, etc.

Of course, not honoring ourselves by creating the photo album, stretching our bodies or clearing our desks sets us up with a backlog of stress as we go into our next project, making it harder to succeed because our foundation is shaky.

Not to get all Old Testament or anything, but sometimes we skip the whole, “and He saw that it was Good,” moment. Our culture is more, “what have you done for me lately?” in which even our modern-day gods and goddesses (think Pitt and Jolie) are only as good as their last project and, if it’s been awhile, there better be a baby bump involved. No lulls allowed.

Here’s where we’ve got to gird ourselves with self-esteem and take a comfortable chunk of time to revisit a past accomplishment. If you  have only an hour, a little review of a box of photos can result in a little purging and a little clarifying of a future photo project. If you have more time, dig in and do the project. An hour — listen to a favorite old CD that brings up great memories. More than an hour — organize your music or burn a fresh compilation CD for your work, workout or dinner party soundtrack. An hour — reread some old poetry or stories you’ve written. More than an hour — organize them into a document and publish them on lulu.com.

Sometimes our next creative and fulfilling project is buried in a past event or accomplishment that we haven’t taken the time to look at yet. Or sometimes just the satisfaction of looking back a bit (and doing a little sorting and tossing while we’re at it) can refresh us for the next step forward.