Free mulch

free mulch sign

One of my goals is to improve the soil in my back yard. It’s a huge sunny space with easy access to water, and would be an ideal place to garden if the soil wasn’t nearly pure sand. The grass that grows there now struggles mightily for survival, and finally loses the battle to weeds by the end of each summer. But my hope is that if I can add enough organic material to the soil I’ll eventually be able to grow a great garden there.

The yard is a large enough space that it will take really a lot of material to make any significant impact. But I figure that if I emulate the behavior of a forest by adding a layer of organic matter every year, sooner or later I will have dirt. For example, last fall I carried at least 30 bags of fallen leaves from trees at a nearby school, and dumped them on the spot I’ve selected for the garden.

I’ve done several things to remind myself of my intention to improve the soil:

  • I took a picture of the garden location with its thick new layer of leaves.
  • I pasted both that picture and the words “FERTILE SOIL” (ransom note style) onto my New Year collage. That collage has been sitting above my desk all year.
  • I also ran the picture in my screensaver slideshow and Google Sidebar for awhile.

Yesterday while driving to get my morning coffee I noticed a handmade sign a few blocks from home. It was modestly lettered on plain white poster board and attached to a utility pole:

Free Mulch

Sure enough, I saw an enormous pile of chipped vegetation in the neighbor’s yard, apparently free for the taking.

In the blizzard of sensory input I encountered while driving through the neighborhood yesterday morning why did this particular sign catch my attention? There was nothing particularly attention-grabbing about it, other than being relevant to one of my goals. In fact, the lettering was so light it was difficult to read.

I submit it’s exactly that relevance, reinforced by my collage and slideshow ads, that made the sign stand out. I think we notice opportunities that are related to whatever has occupied our attention. By running ads about improving the soil in my back yard I had put my brain on notice that this is an important project, and when I saw the sign I recognized its message as a potential match between that intention and opportunity.

There are a variety of ways to program your attention:

  • Some people frame their goals as affirmations they repeat to themselves.
  • Others think about their intentions in an organized intentional way and call it praying.
  • Nike, Verizon, etc. create multimedia ad campaigns and deliver them to you relentlessly.
  • TBYB! suggests finding ways to automatically repeat seeing images and messages that advocate for your own priorities.

Whatever method works for you, you might as well get into the game of influencing your attention, because others are doing it to you all the time.

I not only noticed the sign yesterday, but carried out a number of actions for the rest of the weekend to follow through on the opportunity to add so much organic matter to my garden all at once. I immediately rearranged my plans to make time for the project, even though I had already felt busy. I don’t know how many pounds of mulch I ended up carrying down the 32 steps to the back yard, but I think I filled up my station wagon with bags of it 6 times. It was hot and I became increasingly tired, but the inner certainty that I was applying all this effort toward an important goal kept me going. I mention this because I’ve noticed that ads seem to be a really effective way to focus that kind of internal desire.

(The scarcity principle was operating a little bit in motivating me to keep going too, because even though I told the neighbor I could use the whole pile he said it was available on a first-come first-served basis.)

As I write this, I’m utterly exhausted. I mean I carried a LOT of mulch! But it feels fantastic to be so much closer to creating a large garden with good soil. And of course I’ll take a picture of the new mulch mountain for my ad rotation to remind myself how good it feels to make progress toward an important goal.

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