Slowly but Surely

I wouldn’t call myself a great proponent of mantras. I’ve never been one to rely heavily on mantras before. But lately, I have to admit that that there are a few sayings that have slipped their way into my consciousness and on which I have started to rely to make it through the days of this crazy thing that we call life.

The one that reared its head the most this week is a new idea I’ve been dwelling on: As slow as you want.

This might come as a shock (…unlikely), but I can be a pretty lazy person. It’s not one of my favorite qualities about myself. I’ve previously written at length about procrastination in all its painstaking glory. I think a part of this laziness and lack of motivation might stem from feeling overwhelmed, feeling like a certain chore is just too many steps all at once, or a series of tasks is just too big to think about tackling, so why start at all? I think introverts in particular probably fall prey to this thought process, as a book under the blankets takes a lot less effort than most other things in life. And I wish I was talking about tasks that are actually large and significant. I’m not. I’m talking about the day in, day out things we want to ideally accomplish as functioning, healthy, contributing members of society and our households – the laundry, the shopping, the dishes, giving the dog a bath, getting to the gym, getting dressed in the morning (…yes I have motivation issues in the morning, don’t act like you wake up every day ready to adult the hell outta things).

It doesn’t help that I am also not someone who would be described as a patient person. In fact it’s worse than that – I’m someone who likes to appear patient, who likes others to think that I’m patient, but those that truly know me know what’s up. I might be lazy because I’m so impatient. If I perceive that I can’t get something done as fast as I think it should be done (which in most cases means five minutes ago) then it overwhelms me and I put it off.

BUT, in recent months, I’ve been dwelling on little sayings to help me get through, and one of them is little by little. It’s not a new or novel idea. It’s just that simple reminder that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will my rat’s nest of a closet be magically organized overnight. But if I give myself permission to organize a shelf at a time or unpack a box at a time, I will eventually see my closet floor again.

It’s along these same lines while reminding myself to tackle things little by little that I learned the power of taking things as slow as you want. On the surface, this might seem like a sluggish way to live life, and maybe it is, but I have to share that I’ve gotten more things done this week than in many weeks previous by allowing myself to work at a snail’s pace, focusing on one step at a time, and reminding myself in the process that eventually I will get done. This has been a game changer for me in several areas like getting ready in the morning or getting to the gym. Apparently, I just really hate getting dressed…It’s a lot of work, finding the right socks, pants, shirt, bra, shoes, packing work bags or gym bags, filling water bottles or making lunches, grabbing keys and phone and headphones. I’m tired just writing that sentence. But if I just think about the first item: find socks…check; choose pants…check; pet my dog…check, check, check. Eventually I end up on the Stairmaster, and I’ve achieved a goal. And, you know what? That’s a very motivating thing.

These mantras remind me that it’s okay to break a task down into mini steps. Admittedly, sometimes time matters and you do have to move fast. But when time doesn’t have to be a factor, I’m learning that I don’t always have to make it one. Consequently, this is helping me to live in the moment, to live in the task at hand. I’ve also realized that it makes me more pleasant because I’m not just being an impatient jerk.

And when I get anxious or judgy about efficiency, I just remind myself of a new lesson that’s come out of all this: Slow is better than not at all. 

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When the Healthiest Option is The Finger

I got into a scuffle with my sister a few weeks ago. She’s my sister so of course we were able to talk it out and I don’t think we’re any worse for the ware. But it got me thinking,  and if I’m being honest with myself, I think that we both could have saved a lot of soul-searching and ruminating and hurt feelings if she would have just told me to suck it.

In truth, it was a situation where I meant well and I felt that what I was sharing was meaningful and important and necessary. But at the same time, I think I also was trying too hard, I was frustrated and I unintentionally came across harsh and judgmental.

Some people don’t suffer from anxiety about everything they say and every encounter that they have. But my sister and I are both worriers and ruminators. Over-thinkers and those of us that suffer from anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies usually tend to assume that there is something wrong with ourselves and that everyone else is right. This could also just be a self-confidence or felt-safety issue. Whatever the case, because of this, my sister and I are also both disposed to constantly trying to exasperate all avenues when it comes to trying our hardest to find the most decent and healthiest response to every circumstance, giving everyone else the benefit of the doubt. In other words, we don’t want to be seen for the crazy people that we are, so we tend to work a lot harder socially and often put up with a lot more in certain situations than others would tolerate.

You don’t have to suffer from anxiety to relate to this. If you’re someone that was raised to try and always see from someone else’s perspective, or if you are someone with a  good heart that has worked hard to be healthy and have healthy relationships and want to be perceived as such, then you might know a little of what I’m talking about.

But a lightbulb went on when I was mulling this over on my run the other day (don’t be too impressed–I wasn’t running fast, ergo had some time to think), and it occurred to me that while it’s a good quality and goal to be a good listener, to be slow to anger, and to assume people always mean well, sometimes the healthiest response is to just tell someone to shove it. Or as my mother would say, “Tell them to go kick rocks!”

Now, I’m not saying to just pick a random hard conversation and just tell someone to piss off. Please know that I am fully advocating using your judgement here.  My point is some of us miss the fact that there are times where it’s fully warranted. People like my sister and I can have a hard time identifying these times because we so badly want to be the people that are seen as understanding and always having the healthiest and wisest and most mature response. So sometimes we can get into situations where our mind is playing twister just to figure out what that response might be. And the thought that I had the other day way, if you’re in a situation where that’s the case, and you feel like you are genuinely being misunderstood or unfairly judged, or being more harshly treated than you deserve, that might be a situation where the healthiest option really is to just give someone the proverbial finger–or the real finger, if that’s your style.

Even if your tendency is to just assume that you’re the crazy one, that doesn’t mean that you deserve to be unfairly spoken to or unfairly judged. We do ourselves a disservice when we don’t hold others accountable for the way they communicate with us because we miss an opportunity to stand up for ourselves and we do others a disservice because they miss an opportunity to be checked and to grow. If someone is straight in the wrong, save yourself the heartache and let them know.

Nobody is perfect. No one is always 100% right on the giving end and no one is always 100% wrong on the receiving end.

It’s noble to be good to those around you, but it’s vital to be good to yourself as well.



Feeling Overwhelmed: How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Feeling overwhelmed…

Where to start? Where to begin? We’ve all been there. Staring into the eyes of a seemingly insurmountable feat. Maybe it’s applying to grad school, maybe it’s that immense beast of a project at work, maybe it’s the family laundry pile you’ve been ignoring in your basement because you just don’t even know where to jump in. Mountains, whatever their form, can be extremely overwhelming.

…what questions feed that feeling?

I wish I could say that by now I have mastered this monster, being overwhelmed, but the truth is I still get stuck more often than I would like to admit. One of my biggest challenges is that I still tend to see the mountain instead of the steps. In a dual-post last year, I wrote on how feeling overwhelmed can lead to some major procrastination. And it’s this question of not knowing where to start that’s the culprit of the stalemate. But if we really unpack this riddle of where to start for a moment, we will find that often this dilemma is anchored in other questions…is there a right place to start? How will I know?

Like I said, obviously this is not unfamiliar territory for me, I’ve written on similar dilemmas before–my very first blog post was about perfection paralysis, discussing how worrying whether you are doing something right can seriously stall you out. Feeling overwhelmed is such a motivation killer and can stop you in the muck if you let your mind run rampant with all the different avenues to pursue and continually questioning which one is right. This idea of endless avenues is pervasive. We find it in the dating world where there’s no shortage of dating sites to be on and apps to utilize. In the writing world there’s endless articles, Facebook groups, writer’s workshops, magazines to submit to and competitions to enter. I’ve experienced this most acutely in my recent job search. With so many avenues to pursue, it’s not any wonder that we end up with the questions, where do I start? Where do I end? And is it enough? In this light, being overwhelmed is really a crisis of definition, or rather, a lack of guidelines.

How do we overcome it?

When I get stuck in this cycle of more questions than answers, I again have to remind myself that when you don’t have any way of knowing if you’re doing enough or doing it right or where to start or when you’re finished, it’s best to just pick something and do what you can.

1 – Give yourself permission to narrow your focus or narrow your field. For me, this might look like choosing one or two favorite job boards and working on applications only through those channels. I know this sounds sacrilegious but in this day of endless job board channels with thousands of jobs posted on each, there’s no way to thoroughly search all of them and keep up with all of the opportunities that they produce; better to make a focused effort on a few channels than to allow all of it to overwhelm you at once.

2 – Setting your own finite goals about what you want to accomplish is key in combating this. Create your own definition, your own guideposts. This might look like setting a time frame to get done as much as possible in a set block of time, whether it’s an hour or four hours. Or perhaps giving yourself a unit goal would be helpful, like committing to complete three applications a day.  Committing to the approach, the habit, or the goal will go a long way in helping to make the endeavor manageable.

3 – Get comfortable in accepting the fact that there will always be multiple ways to proceed or more you ‘could’ do. As an idealist, I have an incredibly hard time with this concept. I like things to have a right way, to be defined, finite and neat. The truth is, only you can decide what’s “enough.” Make sure you are determining what you can handle. Break it down. Make it bite-sized. We know by now that so many things that overwhelm us don’t actually have right or wrong answers. The only wrong answer is not taking any action, not participating at all. Like Nike says, just do it!

Fleeting Thoughts Friday 9.23.16 – Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gratitude.

I recently had a very revealing conversation while driving home with a good friend. We will both be 30 years old next year, and for whatever reason, this number seems to drive us crazy. It’s a time in which many people (especially women) are taking stock and thinking about all those boxes that they have or haven’t checked yet—as though we were given a 100-foot-long checklist when we were born of exactly what we’re supposed to accomplish by the end. And unfortunately, the two measuring instruments that we most often tend to utilize are what we feel we are supposed to have accomplished already and what our friends have managed to do by this point.

And honestly, who can blame us for falling into this trap? From a young age, almost our whole world is set up to compare our performance to everyone and everything around us. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure if there has ever been a season when I haven’t been concerned with where I am compared to the rest of my peers. High school classes, test scores, college acceptance, graduation rankings, job offers, relationship status…the list just goes on and on.

In a western world acculturated by the next newest technology, hottest vehicle, highest job title, biggest house, most successful spouse, and most angelic children, it’s difficult to escape this comparison game. I call this kind of thinking a trap because it truly is pointless. Not only does it breed terrible feelings of inadequacy, but also it engages us to play in a rigged arena, living life as though we’re in some ultimate game of Rock, Paper, Scissors trying to outdo the people next to us. If we were all given the same opportunities in life, starting from the same place with the same package, then maybe it would be fine for us to look around and judge our status based on where everyone else is, if we were all clones. But we don’t live in that world! We are born with different parents, in different households with different income levels and different talents, temperaments and attitudes in each and every one of us. So comparing ourselves to one another is about as sensible as comparing a ferret to a fish.

We spend a whole lot of time thinking that we could have more, that we should have more, and when we get it, we wonder why we don’t feel any happier, any more content. But what if we spent more time on the opposite? What if we trained ourselves to recognize that we could just as easily have a lot less? That we could be much worse off? Honestly, at any given point in time while we are thinking about how we wish we could find that perfect job/spouse/house/child, someone else is wishing they had your package.

By the culmination of our conversation, my friend and I had determined that gratitude really is the beginning of contentment. Moreover, it is the antidote to comparison, envy and inadequacy.

Gratitude breeds contentment, contentment breeds happiness, and happiness breeds health and wholeheartedness. This is important to know because, as we discussed above, it works the other way too. Comparison leads to envy and discontentment, which leads to a constant feeling of lacking, which breeds a feeling of inadequacy and overall ugliness.

But I’ve been learning that discontentment, comparison and envy are not the only things that can be squelched by practicing gratitude. The more I process this application of gratitude the more apparent it becomes that gratitude covers a multitude of garbage.

I struggle with anxiety; it’s just a part of my truth. My anxiety is pervasive. There’s not an area of my life that it doesn’t touch. My anxiety makes me a careful, cautious and concerned person, but it can also make me into a negative person if not checked. All that worry produces a mindset of constantly coming up short, feeling like I’m not enough or we don’t have enough to deal with a specific circumstance, causing me to focus on worse-case scenarios a majority of the time. But I’ve noticed a significant advantage to refocusing my mindset on what I do have that’s going right in any given situation, and not to sound all Pollyanna, but this practice has definitely helped to calm my mind and make me into a more positive person.

I’m not saying that anxiety can be simply done away with completely by thinking happy thoughts – mental health is a real struggle and should be approached like any other illness – with serious professional attention. I am saying that practicing cognitive awareness and positive reframing can be one of the tools in our arsenal to help combat the storm of worry and negativity.

We need to stop thinking of life as a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and more like a game of Solitaire. We’re not all in a game together playing to one-up each other, we’re all playing different games at the same time, and the only people we should be competing against are ourselves. The only time we should be looking in on someone else’s game is to support each other in the process. Are we doing the best we can with what we’ve been given? Are we giving our all to make the best decisions about what’s right for our own lives? Are we acting with integrity, humility, generosity and thankfulness? To paraphrase a gem of wisdom that was recently shared with me, the only time we should be evaluating what our neighbor has is to make sure they have enough, and the only time we should be evaluating what we have is to give thanks.

I know that I’m not presenting any new wisdom with this post. My only aim is sharing what I’m going through presently. This week I made a new attempt at focusing my mind on gratitude above all else, and I came up with a saying; it’s silly, and it’s simple, but it’s been working for me:

Don’t complain and don’t compare
Just be thankful for what’ s there

Don’t judge or envy how others are livin’
Just be grateful for what you’re given.

I have to apologize – this thought was more full-fledged than fleeting. Sorry, it is what it is. Nonetheless, I hope you found it useful. Happy Friday!

There are birds that fly, and fish that swim. And then there are fish that fly.

Never forget, you are and can be many different things. The combination of you, of who you are, is glorious. Never forget this, and never wish for otherwise.

Be not discouraged if you don’t fit the mould. There are people that say there are birds that fly and there are fish that swim and that’s all there is to it. But we know better. Those that dare to look a little further will learn that there are also fish that fly and indeed even birds that swim. And if that is the case, how many more astounding combinations in between?