On Tuesday, my husband and I returned from a short but worthwhile trip in the backcountry near Breckenridge, CO. We skied in to a small cabin that is maintained by the 10th Mountain Division Huts here in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. For 24 hours, we were "out of service," only using our phones to take pictures and occasionally listen to music. The place we stayed, Ken's Cabin, was named after a young doctor and avid skier who died in an avalanche. It is a rustic, one-bedroom log cabin with a wood-burning stove and very basic amenities.
Adventures like this always give me time to think and therefore, I learn about myself. I want to share some of those lessons with you.
The Journey as a Metaphor
From the comfort of my home and safely tucked behind my computer screen, 6.2 miles didn't seem so bad. Sure, it's uphill. Sure, there might be some weather. Sure, it's our first all-terrain outing of the season. Sure, we'll be carrying backpacks with sleeping bags, clothes and food. Let's do this!
Fast forward to the actual day, the blowing snow, the cold hands and feet and untrained muscles, the lower oxygen of being at high altitude and the reality of our undertaking soon differentiated itself from the fantasy. The first 3 miles were pleasant enough. We were mostly shielded by trees and the mountain from the wind we could hear howling above. Visibility was limited, so we saw no grand vistas, but it was still beautiful, with the snow-covered rocks, trees and path. We saw a few other skiers, snow-shoers and dogs, but it was mostly just the two of us, alternatively chatting and just being in the zone with the repetitive motion of gliding one ski in front of the other.
At about 3 miles, what we thought was halfway, I started to tire, sore in the shoulders and low back from the weight of the backpack, and running low on energy from the output of the skiing up a long and gradual hill. We stopped at an old and scenic water tank, ate a snack bar, took off our packs for a bit, and braced ourselves for the second half of the journey.
The break reenergized me for a short time, but as we climbed higher, I got more easily winded. The whole trip is done above 10,000 feet, topping out at 11,500 feet. While I know I am in fairly decent shape, I struggled. We hadn't really trained for this, and 6 miles is no short distance, especially considering the conditions (and the fact that it ended up being closer to 7 miles, but that's another story). I wanted to stop many times. I wanted to eat all the snacks. I wanted to take off my pack. At one point, I even imagined laying down and taking a little nap.
I knew I could do the trek, but my mind was trying to convince me that I couldn't, or at the very least, that I deserved to indulge in some rest and snacks. But like any worthy goal in life, stopping only ensures that you will stay in one place. My goal was to reach the cabin, hopefully still in daylight, and to do so, I had to continue forward progress. I knew I had enough fuel. I knew that napping wasn't really an option, but I still had a strong, almost overwhelming urge to give in to those desires, to give myself a break. Instead, I kept moving...sometimes extremely slowly, but always putting one ski in front of the other, push and glide, push and glide, push and glide, to make forward progress. It was a good reminder that action is always better than inaction.
Around mile 5, we left the shelter of the trees to ski across a bare and windswept slope. I don't like wind. In my opinion, it makes any weather condition worse, and this was no exception. As the wind whipped up snow, chilling my nose and obscuring my vision, I started to curse it. What a fun-ruining jerk the wind is. Why couldn't it be calm and clear? Why did the wind have to come in and make the journey that much more difficult? Stupid, useless, annoying wind.
Let me pause here for a moment to point out an important fact. Wind is a circumstance beyond my control. I cannot change the wind. No amount of cursing or whining can force submission. What do I have control over? My thoughts. I only have control over my thoughts about the wind, and those thoughts lead to my feelings, and those feelings lead to my actions.
At one point, the wind died down and it was still for a moment. Then, suddenly, it whipped up again, grabbing the snow and whirling it into what looked like- at least briefly- a herd of galloping white horses. The wind shifted again, and I saw a cresting wave. It whipped again into a snow dragon. I noticed little wind funnels forming around me. It was quite beautiful and mysterious. Mesmerized by this wind art, I suddenly didn't hate it. In fact, I felt it circle back around and give me a little push, something I probably wouldn't have noticed had I been busy cursing it. AND, as an added bonus, it made the trip feel that much more hard core, like something to be overcome. Once we finally made it to the cabin, the howling of the wind added to the ambience and increased our appreciation for the cozy little shelter. And when the next morning dawned sunny and fairly calm, we were more grateful because of the contrast. The moral of the story is this: You cannot change the wind (and you can substitute just about any circumstance here...the behavior of other people, the weather, politicians, etc), but you can change how you think about the wind, and you can always, always learn something from the wind.
The Power of Unplugging
We never get to unplug. Even 6 miles into the backcountry, I had intermittent service. I switched my phone to airplane mode just so that I didn't get text alerts or feel the urge to check my e-mail. During the long trek up to the cabin, I caught myself wishing I'd brought earphones so that I could put on music or a podcast. My mind was resistant to just being alone with itself. However, once I accepted the stillness, I consciously started to track my thoughts. I was able to go deep into some ideas that I'd only shallowly considered. We so rarely do that. We live in a world of distractions, and the constant interruptions hinder our ability to process situations and truly hear what's going on.
This constant distraction and reliance on technology are major reasons why we don't hear our inner voice until our habits are deeply imbedded. We don't even realize we have a pattern of thinking because the external stimulation monopolizes our brain power. Without constant interference, you can really start to listen to yourself and increase the awareness of your thought patterns, and awareness is the first step to making positive change. I encourage you to be deliberate in finding some unplugged time. Take your walks without your phone or music player. Drink your first cup of coffee without the television or radio playing in the background. Start the practice of "Screen-Free Sundays." If possible, spend an afternoon, a day, a week in nature without interruption. Hear your inner voice...really hear it. Get to know yourself...unplugged. Disconnect to reconnect...to your surroundings, to your loved ones, and mostly, to yourself.
Back to Basics
There is power, too, in getting back to basics. Once at the cabin, we had to start a fire for warmth. We had to gather, melt, and boil snow for drinking and cooking. We had to chop wood, sweep the snow out of the doorway, and shovel paths to the wood shed and bathroom. Going to the bathroom entailed putting on a coat, hat and boots, walking a snowy path to the outhouse, and sitting on a cold (very cold) toilet seat.
We are fortunate to live in a time when surviving is fairly easy for most. If you are reading this, you likely have food, shelter, and the basic comforts. Spending time on survival tasks is enlightening when we are used to a world of excess. And again, without technology, my husband and I spent our time reading, writing, talking, and looking at the view. I took a nap in front of the fire. It was glorious (and well-earned, I might add). This return to simplicity fed my soul and really reminded me of what's important.
Don't get me wrong, I was happy to get home to running water, an automatic thermostat, and an indoor bathroom. The added bonus of the trip is a greater appreciation for what I often take for granted. The trip was not easy or comfortable. It was hard on my body, but refreshing for my soul. And when I found myself feeling discouraged, I only had to look at the view, take a few deep breaths, and keep moving forward.
I was having dinner with a long time friend, and we were talking about the idea of setting a "guiding word" at the beginning of the year. He's done it a few years in a row, and I was asking about his experience for my upcoming workshop.
"Well, this year I picked integrity." He rolled his eyes a bit, smiled and laughed. "Wish I would've thought harder about the implications of that." After a thoughtful pause, he continued, "I am really surprised by how much it trickles into all the areas of my life. I mean, it doesn't show a lot of integrity to hit the snooze button five times when your alarm goes off." He paused to take a bite of food and we ate in silence for a few minutes. "It was really challenging. Maybe this year I'll choose a word like 'fun' or 'relaxation'!" And we laughed and toasted a little cheers to that idea.
My friend was poking fun at himself and his word choice, but make no mistake that he takes himself and his commitments seriously. He is a person of integrity, so when he chooses a word, he means to live by it and considers it as he makes decisions both big and small.
I love this idea because my work as a life coach is all about helping people live with intention. So many of us become victims of default. Our decisions (or indecision) of the past created the circumstances we now find ourselves in. While we don't control everything that befalls us, we do control how we think about each circumstance and that, in turn, controls how we react and move on (or fail to).
Only 8% of New Year's Resolutions are successful. Why? Because we can't compartmentalize one aspect of our lives. You want to eat better? Great. You want to get stronger? Wonderful. Better relationships, more success at work, quality time with your kids? All honorable goals. What do all these things have in common that we often fail to recognize?
They ALL require a change in your thinking. Let's say you want to eat better. This takes a major shift in your habits and your thinking. Why do you eat poorly in the first place? If you lack awareness around your own thinking about food, you won't be able to sustainably change your diet. Likewise, if you want to start working out more regularly, but continue to talk yourself out of exercising with the same excuses, you will not be able to create a new fitness habit. Unhappy with your partner? How are you thinking about that person? Are you caught up in a cycle of noticing all his/her failings? Are you letting expectations shut you off from real opportunities to grow and connect in your relationship? Are you even aware of how your pattern of thinking affects your interactions?
I admire any action that encourages positive change. However, I understand how cycles repeat themselves. I understand how our habits become so ingrained that we don't even recognize their power over us. If you truly want to work toward a better version of yourself, don't just make a resolution. You have to live with intention. It is never too late to take control of your mind so that you can design a life worth living. Here are some suggestions:
A few months ago, my sister-in-law sent out a text asking who wanted to go see Michelle Obama. I said I'd be interested, mainly because I like spending time with the women in my family and thought this would be a fun outing. The day came around and I was excited, but only moderately so. We met for dinner, walked in chilly, crisp air to the venue, waiting in a LONG and disorganized line to get in, and took our seats just as the lights dimmed to start the show.
I'm not one to get starstruck. If I saw a celebrity on the street, I would look with interest, but I wouldn't scream and swoon and beg for autographs. However, I will fully admit that I was taken aback by Michelle Obama. I can't even explain the extent of her kindness, passion, humor and authenticity. You cannot fake that. She is a truly lovely person.
Luckily, my mother in law had some notecards so that I could furiously scribble notes to share with you. Michelle's message was simple and to be honest, nothing new. However, her delivery and the parallels to what I'm finding in my coaching practice were powerful. Her book, Becoming, (which I have not yet read in its entirety), is about the continual journey to authentically become your best self. As a coach, I have honed in on the "Big A" words: Awareness, Authenticity, Action, Accountability, and Abundance. I truly believe that many people jump from awareness to action without spending enough time getting in touch with their authentic selves. People take action based on their observations of others and often end up right back where they started because that action is not in line with their true values or core selves. Michelle Obama's message centered around the importance of "reaching continually toward a better self"...in other words, on becoming who you are truly and uniquely capable of being.
Here are some of the biggest take aways from her talk:
I don't want this post to get too long, but she had so many gems, it's hard to pick the best ones. However, one last message resonated with me, and it relates to the first bullet point of hope versus fear. It's important to mention that she did not at any point say one nasty or cruel or insulting comment about anybody (except for teasingly calling Barack a few names when talking about challenging times in their marriage). While she has been dragged through the mud, she never stooped to the level of insults or name calling. In fact, she said, "when they go low, we go high." Furthermore, when talking about her very public time in the White House and all the interactions she had in her role as First Lady, she said the following: "At our core, I saw this country for all its beauty and tolerance and openness. It made me hopeful and it continues to make me hopeful." This speaks to the fact that our brain will find evidence to support our thinking. If she chose, she could easily find evidence of a closed off, hateful world. She's been called an "ape in heels," for goodness sakes. But she chooses to see the good and the hopeful. She also said, "It is our stories and our day to day connectedness that defines us. It's hard to hate up close." Ponder that, my friends.
Don't worry...this is not a political post. It's just that time of year and I've been seeing a lot of memes on this theme. As a life coach, I feel that people create a lot of unnecessary drama around this issue.
From my line of work, I come at this with two different basic principles:
1. Every thought is a choice.
2. Nobody can actually offend you.
(Btw, if you can truly accept and believe these two ideas, your life will change for the better!)
First of all, #1. We all have the power to choose how we think about something. If you need evidence of this, think about a person you don't really like--a person who offends you--who still manages to have friends. You don't like that person because of the way you think about him. His friends like him because they think differently about him.
Let's say you are in the "Merry Christmas" camp. You have an exchange with someone in the grocery line. "Merry Christmas," you say. "And happy holidays to you!" comes the reply. Now, how do you think about this exchange. Do you think, "Well, that was pleasant" or do you think "Happy holidays? It's Merry Christmas. Why are people always trying to take away the meaning of Christmas? Why do people care more about being politically correct than upholding tradition? IT'S MERRY CHRISTMAS, DARNIT!"
Likewise, if you are in the "Happy Holidays" camp and have the same exchange, are you thinking, "Well, that was pleasant" or are you thinking "Merry Christmas? How does she know that I celebrate Christmas? Maybe I'm Jewish. Why do people have to be so exclusive? Why does she have to push her beliefs on everyone else? IT'S HAPPY HOLIDAYS, DARNIT!"
Do you see how different thinking leads to different ways of feeling about the issue? This leads me to #2: Nobody can actually offend you. Say what?!? That's right. Nobody can actually offend you. Go back to the first example of the person you don't like. If he had the power to offend you, then he would have that power over everyone else. You are offended because you CHOOSE to be offended.
Now, I'm not condoning obnoxious or rude behavior. And I'm not saying that you shouldn't take up an issue when you feel a real wrong is being committed. However, little exchanges like this, little annoyances...c'mon...what does somebody else's greeting have to do with what the holidays me to you and your enjoyment of them?
Let's look at this from another angle. If every time somebody says the "wrong" greeting you get a little prickly, you are allowing that negativity in. That person in the check out line may or may not be offended by your choice of greeting, but in the end, it doesn't matter. Your annoyance (in most cases) only affects YOU. You are giving that person power to minimize your values. You can't ever really know another person's motivation, and you definitely can't control another's behavior. When your well-being hinges on the behavior of others, you are setting yourself up for a life of disappointment.
Do you see what I did there? I went from the specific to the general. The way we get worked up about how we express holiday greetings speaks to a universal truth about all kinds of behaviors. In other words, don't give somebody the power to affect how you feel. Live in your own power.
How do we do this? Here are some ideas to ponder:
A few months ago, my family (ahem...it was mostly me) decided to implement "Screen Free Sundays." No iPad, no video games, no shows or movies or youtube for a whole *gasp* day!
I made the decision to push for a screen free day for several reasons. The statistics, after all, are quite gloomy. The average 8-10 year old spends 6 hours a day in front of a screen. Yikes. It's even higher for older kids. My kids spend way less time than the *average* kid in front of a screen...we don't even have cable...but still, the desire for screen time and the fussing when transitioning from the screen back to real life were becoming an issue. And while I'm not a tech teetotaler--it's not going away, people, so we might as well learn how to coexist in a healthy way--I do believe that technology is hurting our personal skills and taking time away from more active and productive pastimes. I wanted a day to prove that not only a) we don't NEED technology, but also b) we can discover more about ourselves and each other without it...and thus, Screen Free Sunday was born.
The research is out there and I encourage you to educate yourselves about both the positive and negative aspects of technology. However, this post is not to advocate that you take on a similar practice. Your relationship with technology is personal, and I'm in no position to dictate how much screen time is right for you or your kids. And while I've seen positive effects on our family, I'm not here to talk about the evils of too much technology or even the benefits of cutting back. I'll just say that we all need to be thoughtful consumers in this brave new world.
What I want to talk about it this: my family's incorporation of a screen free day is actually a great metaphor for any kind of positive change you might attempt. First of all, it was a conscious decision. We didn't just default to a screen free day. It was fully by design that we got here.
Secondly, it was not the easier route. Let's be honest, the iPad is a great kid-sitter. While my kids are playing iPad, I don't have to worry about fights, I don't have to answer a million questions, and I can go GSD around the house. That was hard to give up.
Thirdly, this change was met with resistance. Sundays are weekend days, for goodness sakes. Shouldn't we be allowed to do whatever we want on Sundays? Can't we just relax in front of a movie? We've spent the whole week working hard and doing homework and going to karate, don't we deserve to play some video games? We don't like screen-free Sundays.
I'm imitating my kids here, but doesn't it kind of sound like your inner voice when you are trying to establish a healthy habit or new thought pattern? Our brains like to be efficient. We get addicted to the familiar, even if the familiar isn't the best for us. So we try to default back to what we know, back to the path of least resistance because change is HARD.
But here's the good news. If you really believe in the benefits of something, if you really want to make positive change, it does get easier. You start to see the payoff. What was new and hard becomes normal and familiar.
Let me tell you about yesterday. My oldest daughter was getting over the crud (fever, cough, general yuckiness), and I admit that I was tentatively planning on making an exception and allowing a movie. But alas, it wasn't necessary. My kids woke up, and immediately started playing with some of their legos. Later, they bundled up and started a really creative game of catch outside, followed by some chalk art on the driveway. My daughter felt good enough to go to a cute little Elf Academy that my town puts on, so they learned elf dances and played kazoos and decorated cupcakes there. When we got home, they wrote thank you notes to a family member, practiced piano voluntarily, made-up missed work from school, and asked to start board games as a family, which we did. Screen-free Sunday just happened. It had become our new normal.
I know this paints a very pretty picture and I'll be the first one to admit that it isn't as clean and easy as all that, but it is that simple. Change can happen if you don't give up when it gets hard. And if you push through, the fight in your brain diminishes. Soon, it takes just simple reminders to stay the course, and eventually, your brain will default to the new and better pattern.
At one point yesterday my youngest daughter, Cici, asked to see the "Christmas Fails" video we had watched earlier in the week. "It's so funny!" She said. "And it's short. Can't we watch it?"
"But it's Screen-Free Sunday," I reminded her.
"Oh right," she said, rolling her eyes a little (because she's 7 going on 17). I braced myself for begging or arguing, but she simply skipped away and rejoined her sister at whatever imaginative game they were currently playing, leaving me stunned and smiling.
When my oldest was not even a year old, my husband and I decided it would be a great idea to do a little biking tour of Oregon wineries (we lived in Portland at the time), WITH our 11-month-old. We had just gotten a Burley bike trailer, you see, and we were eager to put it to use. We booked a kid-friendly B&B, mapped out a good route, and away we went.
I know it wasn't all easy and good. I know the route had big hills and narrow shoulders and speeding semi-trucks. I know that Aleida cried...a lot. I know that I wasn't in the best shape and arrived at the wineries sweaty and out of breath. But all I remember, 8 years later, is the fun and the fact that we did it. We tell the story about biking up a big hill with a crying child and we laugh. We recall the looks from the other wine tasters, some admiring, others judging, and we revel in our adventurousness. "Aleida wasn't even a year old!" we say. "We took a crawling baby on a winery bike tour in Oregon!" we laugh.
This probably wasn't the first time, but it stands out in my memory as one of the important moments when I realized that we would be this couple, and now this family. We are a high effort family. When our kids were 3 and 5, we took a trip with another family (who had 2 kids, also under 5) to Nicaragua. Even the flight attendant questioned our choice: "You're taking a family vacation to Nicaragua?"
Two summers ago, when my kids were 6 and 8, we hiked our first 14er and went on our first backpacking trip, which prompted Aleida to say, "Summer break is hard in a family like ours." And she's right: it IS hard.
Just this weekend, my husband said, "You've gotta love effort, and I do love effort." I can't even remember what we were talking about because we literally had half a dozen scenarios he could've been referring to--just in the past week. We went snowshoeing and sledding in deep snow on Black Friday (a new tradition we are calling "White Friday), and yesterday we drove 1.5 hours to go cut down our own Christmas Tree. We are a high effort family. Admittedly, my husband is the leader. I often roll my eyes or get heart palpitations when he conjures up a new undertaking, but ultimately, I am grateful for it. I am less effort-averse than I use to be, and I know my kids--who whine and complain and cry like all other kids--are learning to appreciate the pay off if worth their exertions.
Still, I am sometimes self-conscious about the level of effort we put out there. To be fair, we live in an abnormally active town, full of sponsored mountain bikers and ultra marathoners, and we are surrounded by like-minded families who take their kids skiing at age two and plan camping trips and adventure vacations. But outside of our little snow globe of high effort, I know that some people think we are crazy. And maybe we are...but here's the thing about effort:
Effort is the main ingredient when making the best memories. Effort creates the best stories. Effort is behind all the hilarious fails and spectacular successes and amazing discoveries and awesome inventions. Without effort, you cannot see what you are really made of. Without effort, you cannot feel proud of yourself. Effort means learning and progress and improvement.
I sometimes joke that I do things just so that I can say I did them. And while I'm all for enjoying the process, I'm also a big fan of looking back and telling the stories. And because of this motivation to have good stories, I have learned to appreciate and savor the effort. No pain, no gain, right? Likewise, no effort, no stories. So the next time you find yourself thinking, "That's a lot of effort," I encourage you to reframe it to..."Just think of the stories!"
We are a high effort family, but boy, do we have stories.
Yesterday, I held a free Mindfulness workshop at the local library. I wanted to share strategies that participants could use on a daily basis.
You see, until fairly recently, I falsely equated mindfulness with long sessions of yoga and meditation. While those activities are definitely good for developing mindfulness, it's an unfortunate myth that you need to set aside large chunks of time to be more present. I appreciate yoga and meditation, but I don't prioritize those activities. I have had much better results incorporating short, daily mindfulness practices and I wanted to share that with other busy people. I know several people wanted to come to the workshop but couldn't make it, so I'm summarizing the strategies here. You're welcome.
Mindfulness Strategy #1: Find an Anchor An anchor is a lovely metaphor. Just as an anchor on a ship keeps it from straying too far from its location, an anchor for your mind can keep you from straying too far from the present moment. If you find yourself going down rabbit holes of thought or feeling undesired emotions, an anchor can reel you back in. Some example anchors include:
Mindfulness Strategy #3: Thought Download For verbal and visual people, this can be a helpful exercise. The concept is very simple: Take five minutes to write down ALL of your thoughts surrounding a certain issue (your in-laws visiting, a project that is stressing you out, a difficult conversation, etc) or feeling (anxiety, stress, sadness). Do not censor or judge, just let it flow. This alone can be enough to allow you to move on. However, it can also be a springboard to many other in-depth activities such as recognizing facts versus assumptions, seeing/understanding your thought process, and beginning to take those hurtful or unproductive thoughts and changing them to something new. A life coach can be very supportive of this process. (Hint, hint.)
Mindfulness Strategy #4: Feel the Feels This can be challenging, but it is sooooo good for you if you can put the time in to practice. When you are feeling an undesirable emotion such as anxiety or fear or stress, you often don't realize that those emotions are not signs of actual danger. In fact, any time you are in actual danger, you aren't sitting there feeling anxiety...you are running or fighting or surviving. So anxiety (or any emotion) is simply a set of sensations in your body in reaction to your thoughts. If you can accept it and allow yourself to feel it, you can let go of it more easily than if you ignore it, quash it, or fight it. Try these 4 steps to help demystify and therefore free yourself from some emotions that aren't serving you.
Hopefully you can find a strategy or two in that list that resonates with you. Try them all and report back to let me know which ones were the most effective.
Yesterday, I had an experience that gets more profound the more I think about it. My cute little town, Golden, CO, had a time capsule reveal and dedication ceremony. 50 years ago, the people of Golden opened a time capsule buried in 1918 and then placed their own to be opened on November 11, 2018. First of all, the day itself is bursting with meaning. Many numerologists and spiritual gurus attribute power and significance to the 11th day of the 11th month. And I admit that I like the symmetry of it. Secondly, yesterday was Veteran's Day. It was also the Centennial of Armistice Day, which marked the cessation of World War 1. So it's a day to celebrate sacrifice and pride and peace. It also happened to be snowing the first big snow of the season, which added a buzz to the ambiance.
With remarks from the mayor, veterans, and high school students, the ceremony itself was thought provoking and impressive. And despite snowy weather and slick roads, the town hall and the history museum that was streaming the ceremony were both at full capacity with standing room only. After the ceremony, the items from the 1968 capsule were on display, mostly paper-based memorabilia--newspaper clippings, scrolls of signatures, and letters from residents. My girls enjoyed reading letters from the 5th graders of 1968 and seeing historical pictures of our town. We also got to see the new time capsule and we signed a ledger and wrote notes that will go inside, to be read in 50 years. It was the best kind of history lesson.
At one point, I asked my girls how old they would be when the next capsule was opened.
"57!" exclaimed my youngest, Cici.
"And I'll be 59," said Aleida. After a thoughtful pause, she added, "And you'll be 90, Mom."
Wow. This hit me harder than I expected. 90 years old. Longevity does not run in the females of my family. Both my mother and her mother died before reaching age 70, so the odds of me being alive for the next unveiling are fairly slim. 50 years from now, my children will be women with memories older than I am now. They will most likely have families of their own. They will have careers and a circle of friends they have yet to meet. They will have lived away from home--from me--for decades. Will they be at the unveiling in 50 years with their kids? Could I pick them out of the crowd if I could travel through time today?
My thoughts got heavy, my friends. And I'll admit that I fought with some anxiety. This was undeniable proof that time passes...and quickly. And in the face of such proof, I couldn't help but reflect on my life so far and consider what the future will hold. I have SO MANY THINGS left to do.
My anxiety did lead to motivation and resolve. Time will pass. There's no stopping that. But what we do with the rest of our lives is completely up to us. It's trite, I know, but today IS the first day of the rest of your life. What will you do with it?
Do you have goals but feel stuck when you think about trying to reach them? Do you start projects that go unfinished? Do you leave important conversations unsaid because you don't want to deal with the conflict or the fallout? Do you hold back on sharing your creations because you are a "perfectionist?" Behind all of these questions lurk a sneaky but powerful beast: the Fear of Failure.
Here's the irony: The only way to TRULY fail is to give in to the Fear of Failure. And some of us might be doing this without even realizing that we are doing it. Why? Because the Fear of Failure masquerades as many other less-evil-seeming motivations. When Fear of Failure is in disguise, we might not even make it to the first Big A--Awareness--because we are convinced that we are dealing with something else. Can you relate to any of these?
A couple weeks ago, I gave a workshop at the local library. We discussed what it means to live a balanced life, completed the Life Balance Wheel (link to the worksheet below), and created action steps toward bringing up the areas that ranked low.
This topic is important, so I wanted to share some of the takeaways from the discussion I had with the workshop participants. Since I've never known anyone to rank all areas 10 out of 10, everyone has room for improvement, right? If you want to try this activity, you can follow along with this video. Before starting, print out the Life Balance Wheel Worksheet.
Takeaway 1: Balance does not look the same for everyone.
Think about Goldilocks...Papa Bear's bed was "too hard," Mama's was "too soft," and Baby's was "just right." Likewise, what feels like balance to you might mean overwhelm to somebody else. For example, working 20 hours a week might seem like too much for one person, not nearly enough for another, and just the right amount for a third.
More specifically, my father and his wife generously came to watch our kids, our house, and our critters so that my husband and I could attend a wedding in Philadelphia back in September. From their tidy, quiet household of two, they came to our loud, cluttered home complete with 2 kids, 3 dogs, 2 cats and a bearded dragon. They had to coordinate getting the girls to karate, feeding them three meals a day (plus snacks!), caring for all the animals, which includes making sure the young dog was not out at the same time as the cats, getting kids to bed, keeping them entertained, and mediating arguments. On top of all that, they threw a one year birthday party for the cats which included cat toy gifts and tuna ice cream treats. This barely controlled chaos is TOTALLY NORMAL for our household. And honestly, I enjoy it. I can feel balanced amidst the flurry of activity. For my dad and his wife, however, it must have been exhausting. At their phase in life, balance means drinking coffee, reading the paper and completing the soduku puzzle each morning. It means going golfing and doing yard work and watching a movie in the evening. They have busy, full lives, but their daily existence is completely different than my crazy life.
So when you consider your life, consider what feels right TO YOU, regardless of societal norms or the expectations of others. If you read my post about the Big A Words, this is establishing AUTHENTICITY.
Takeaway 2: You have the choice to live by design versus default.
If you rank an area of your life low, you absolutely have the ability to improve it. Let's say you rank Health/Self Care as a 4. You have small kids, a full time job, and other commitments. You don't have the time to work out. You have defaulted to a 4 in that area. I guarantee you that if you truly WANT to bring that number up, you can and will find a way to do it. However, if you are just ranking it as a 4 because you think you should be in better shape, it will be a lot harder to find the motivation to get 'er done. This brings me to...
Takeaway 3: Be aware of how you are thinking about your imbalances.
We often falsely believe that if we achieve a state of balance, then the warm fuzzies will follow. This is a logical assumption, but it is completely backwards. What we tend to do is this: we reach a goal, and instead of stopping and feeling good about it, we set another higher goal, feeling like we will arrive once we reach THAT goal. But once we reach that goal, we set another goal and so on. We never get to that place of contentment and satisfaction when we are waiting for the goals to provide those feelings for us. However, if we can get the horse (emotions) in front of the cart (goals), we can do two important things. 1. We can feel more content and balanced regardless of where we are on any kind of goal-reaching spectrum. 2. We can improve our focus and motivation toward those goals and reach them more quickly. Simply put: A better mindset = Better results. More on that in a future post. :)
Takeaway 4: Write down your next steps. (Big A Word: ACTION)
So you want to improve your fitness? Great. How will you go about it? Again, go back to what authentically feels like a way forward for you. If you need structure, signing up for a gym with scheduled classes or working with a personal trainer might be best. If you hate the gym, perhaps you should look into finding a hiking or mountain biking group. Sustainable changes have to feel good on some level. Yes, exercise hurts when you are out of shape, but if you can appreciate the view or make faces at your work-out partner, you can stay motivated to keep at it.
Takeaway 5: Enjoy the process.
Like happiness, balance is not a permanent state of being. You can feel balanced one minute and then life happens and throws you completely out of whack. The goal is not a consistent state of balance, but an appreciation for the journey toward balance and taking the time to bask in those moments that feel balanced.
When my children do things that make them uncomfortable (competing in a karate tournament, trying new foods, traveling to new places), I tell them that they are expanding their comfort zone. Likewise, you can expand your "balance zone" by cultivating a habit of proactivity and a mindset of abundance. If you can enjoy the journey and work on staying present and mindful, then you will find that balance becomes a state of mind rather than a goal post that's always just out of reach.