Get It All Out, Get It All Done

I’ve been talking a lot about our stories lately, the things we tell ourselves about ourselves, about other people, about the world. But a lot of our stories aren’t even as big as all of that. We have stories on the micro-level too. We have stories about our day, about our workload, about our priorities. Well, maybe you don’t, but I sure do.

I have one persistent story that shows up often, especially if I haven’t gotten enough sleep. In fact if I made a chart to track my bad sleep nights and mornings I have this thought, I think they’d line up pretty darn well. When I haven’t gotten enough rest, my morning mantra is “I won’t be able to get it all done.” Now when I say it’s a mantra, that makes it sound like I’m doing it on purpose, that I’m choosing it, that it might be helpful. I know it’s not. This story about my day, about my workload, about the next several hours is completely counter-productive, and that’s what makes it such a great example to demonstrate the value of getting it all out. Let me explain.

How to be more productiveThis very morning I was doing that thing. “I won’t be able to get it all done.” Once the thought happened, the anxiety increased and once the anxiety increased I got a lot less clear about my plan for the day. Once I got less clear, I began to lose track of everything I actually did or didn’t need to do and after this went on for awhile (in the background while assembling lunches and nagging 5th graders out of the door), all I really wanted to do was turn on Netflix, pop Facebook open, and drink a mug of tea – the very things that would, in fact, make my annoying thought true. I wanted to self-soothe by numbing out a little to shut that nattering voice up. But I didn’t do that, at least not today (I won’t go so far as to claim that I am completely and permanently beyond that kind of behavior).

Today I whipped out a clean piece of paper. And I wrote. I wrote it all down. I wrote down all of the anxious, nagging, self-confidence killing thoughts that were whizzing through my head. I just kept writing. I got to the end of the thread and my jacked up brain started just repeating itself, wanting to be sure I really understood that I couldn’t possibly get it all done. I kept writing my thoughts and that one repeated three times at the end of a lengthy paragraph, like a needle skipping on a record. And I laughed a little when that happened. What better sign that my brain was stuck in a loop, what Brooke Castillo calls a “thought error” than having it just repeat the same sentence over and over when it was out of other words? I don’t run out of words very often, as you may have noticed, so that kind of repetition is worth a pause. The point of this whole writing exercise was to get it all out, just let my anxious brain have its moment to say it all.

I gave voice to the fear and the anxiety and in doing so, it lost some of its power. I became the observer of my own thoughts and feelings instead of reacting and feeling like I was trapped. I began to see how allowing that set of thoughts was impacting me. I could acknowledge that the desire for a morning off was based solely on the way those thoughts made me feel, well and maybe a little lack of sleep. I got it all out, like one big verbal vomit. And, well to be honest about the analogy, just like vomit, it made me feel better.

Then I was able to look at my day and decide if that thought was true. Was it really true that I couldn’t possibly get it all done? Was there really so much on my plate? If the answer was yes, I would have a series of decisions to make (as described here), but as is so often the case when I’m stuck in this particular mental trap, I didn’t have SO much to do. I did have some important things to do that I hadn’t thought about very much. I had some items that were at risk of falling through the cracks, but had not yet done so. I made a quick list of those items and set it aside.

How to change your moodAnd then I got down to the business of choosing a new thought, one that would make me feel better, that would allow for action beyond the great escape of Netflix and Facebook (I will always drink tea), and that would give me results that DON’T prove the negative thoughts I have about myself. Instead of “I won’t be able to get it all done,” I chose the perhaps only mildly ambitious but totally believable: “I will be able to get everything important done.” It didn’t make me feel like Wonder Woman – because I’m tired and that’s just not somewhere I need to try to go today. But it DID make me feel calmer and infinitely more competent. It also reminded me that some list items CAN be let go in the interest of clear-headed productivity.

I got it all out. I checked out my thoughts. I chose a better one. And that better thought allowed me to feel capable, calm, relieved and competent. Feeling that way allowed me to sit down with my planner and figure out exactly what needed doing and when, making a schedule for myself that I could follow and get results. And you know what happened? I got it all done. I got it all out and then I got it all done.

The Path of “We” and “Me”

I went to a masquerade ball on Saturday night. Yes, that’s what I said.

I hesitated to go. My husband is away for monthlong classes at seminary. It was EXCEEDINGLY cold (not really conducive for ball-wear). And I had a great lunchtime event that I felt like called for a few hours of putting my feet up.

But my friend wisely said: “Your children are with your sister. My husband will drive us both. C’Mon Cinderella. It’s time to have some fun.” And so I did.

photo-booth-wedding-party-girls-160420And I had SO much fun. I danced like I haven’t danced for YEARS. Got all sweaty haired and disheveled. I felt the freedom of doing something that was fun and doing it exactly the way I wanted to do it. I drank champagne. I nibbled on divine snacks. My girlfriend and I tried to figure out who was who behind all of the masks. And when the songs were right, we tore it up.

People expressed some sympathy that Scot couldn’t join us.

But honestly, he’s having SO MUCH FUN doing his thing. He calls all excited about theology… I try to keep up.

Last year I saw this month long requirement of his as a huge burden. I was angry. Not necessarily at him because that felt mean, but at the school for running things this way, at the extra work I had to do, at the inconvenience of it all.

This year there’s something different happening. A coach friend shared a vision of relationships as a path, and that sometimes there are divergences on the path – like when you’re hiking and there’s a little side trail that avoids the big rock in case that’s not your jam. She said people are often afraid of those divergences – what if we grow apart? But here’s a question I’d offer instead: what if we stop growing at all? What will we miss out on if we never take that divergence – if we always stick on the “we” path and never sidestep for a “me” minute?

When I was at the ball I noticed a young woman (her gown was fabulously sparkly) who very clearly LOVED to dance. She was dancing and singing along with the music most of the night. Her partner in crime was NOT as enthusiastic. And so, she spent a good bit of that dancing in a sort of muted way next to her partner’s chair. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, when the song was just too good ,she’d rush to the dance floor without him. I also saw him graciously concede a few times and join her for a slow song.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I couldn’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t have more fun if she just followed that side path a little more often. If she wouldn’t feel more like herself, and he wouldn’t love the confidence and magic that comes with that feeling, if she could just trust that the “we” path could survive a few more minutes of unrestrained “me.”

How about you? Which path are you on? Do you like your reasons for being there? Do you feel like yourself? It’s worth a moment to consider.

I’ve done that. I’m going to go dance some more.

The Year of Yes AND No

Many of you may not know, but once upon a time, I was an environmental policy analyst. I was then a high school history and civics teacher. I am a mother of twins.

I have spent a LOT of time saying no.  

If I could calculate it, I suspect I have spent years of my life saying no in countless varied and creative ways. There are realms in which I, quite frankly, excel at saying no. Malcolm Gladwell says 10,000 hours brings mastery and I’m pretty sure I am a NO master if that is the criteria. 

But here’s the interesting thing, my capacity for saying No has always been narrow and deep. 

we say no a lotMy music partner will tell you I easily reject music and musical opportunities. My husband will tell you I readily reject movies, books and other artistic expressions that don’t interest me or suit my taste. My children, well, that’s a long list, but still somewhat focused – on their health and well-being.

By contrast, there have been huge areas in which I have, at least until recently, been completely incapable of saying no. 

  • I was incapable of saying no to demands for my time from friends, family, tradition or obligation.
  • I was unable to say no to suggestions about my professional career from people I respected.
  • I was unable to say no when credit for my work was co-opted by my male colleagues while I worked for a government contractor.
  • I was unwilling to say no to professions that drained me of my life force and made me feel terrible. 
  • I was incapable of saying no to old family stories about who I am and who I can ever be.
  • I was unable to say no to my own impossible vision of motherhood.

During this time of failing to say No to so many fundamental things, I said yes, either directly or implicitly, to far too many things.

 And my days grew full and tiring.

And my energy waned.

And my zest for life fizzled.

Years ago, a counselor I saw after a nearly fatal miscarriage asked what it would take for me to stop. What would it take for me to slow down, be more discerning about what’s necessary, put myself in the equation, take care of myself on a fundamental level? My sessions with her were short-lived. She had the right message, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. So, I didn’t. Instead:

  • I trudged on in a degree program that I didn’t want to actually complete.
  • I volunteered to be the matriarch for my in-laws.
  • I organized people, things, events.
  • I prided myself on holding impossible standards even as I felt the wound of failing to meet them so regularly.

Because that whole time, I thought I was saying YES to life.

I thought the more yes I could say, the more “good” I was being, the more “good I was doing. 

It turns out I had my yeses and my nos all mixed up, and sorting that mess out took some real soul searching.

It took taking the time to identify the old family and personal narratives about my character – calling them out: “I see you. I hear you. But I think you are lying to me. I’m saying no to you

It took getting really clear about what kinds of messages, what kinds of requests actually made my life feel fulfilling not just full. It took new tools. It took new perspectives. It took me learning to say yes to my own wisdom and to the truth of my heart and using that as my guide rather than the old storybook I had so carefully constructed. It took a lot of work, this shuffling of my responses to life.

Because I really want to say yes, a lot. But I want to say yes to the things that will nurture the best parts of me, that will help me to grow, and that will allow me to share whatever gifts that I might have with the people around me.

And so I want to show you a trick. And if you’re anything like I was, this may seem a little weird. But as a current expert on Yes and No, I’m going to ask that you bear with me.

If you are comfortable doing so, place your feel flat on the floor and close your eyes. For a moment I’d like you to just check in with your body. How do you feel physically? Any tension? Any discomfort? Just notice it but don’t linger on it. Deep breaths.

Now I want you to think about a moment in your life that was decidedly bad – don’t worry I won’t leave you here. Just think about it and then see how you feel in your body. Notice anything? Maybe upset in your stomach. Maybe tension in your throat or shoulders? Notice how it FEELS to you. Make a mental note that THIS sensation, this is NO.

Now shake your head or your hands and take a breath to clear away that memory. And now, think about one of the BEST moments you’ve ever had. Something that was truly great, with no lasting consequences or ill after-effects. Something that was clearly and unarguably good. Notice how THAT feels in your body. THIS my friends, this is yes. That scare-cited tingle in the chest, that feeling of expansion, that warmth in the belly and that relaxed open throat. THIS is yes.

THIS is what you want more of.

Maybe you’ve never noticed this information before. Maybe your yeses and nos have been distributed in a more rational way.

So, why turn to the body? 

Because our brains get caught up in the story and get distracted by shiny objects. It’s not to say that our brains can’t be trusted at all, but other data sources can only help.

What I’ve learned is that using the guidance of my heart, and my BODY, I’ve been able to say YES to the experiences that I seem to deeply require. And I’ve been able to apply my NO to things that just don’t serve me, or, at least don’t serve me anymore.

What to say yes toAs we part, I’d ask you to consider where you’re currently applying your YES and your NO. What story are you letting in? What heart evidence are you denying? Are you full but not fulfilled? Saying yes to life often means starting with a few Nos and then learning to utter a YES directly from your heart.

Concerning Resolution Bashing

I’ve seen a lot of memes out there… I could probably start many different blog posts with that same phrase… I’ve seen a lot of memes out there taking a poke at the idea of making a resolution or starting afresh in the new year. And I get it.

pexels-photo-221247I think I’ve probably been in the resolution bashing camp in the past. I’ve decided it was silly to make myself a promise of change just because the calendar says it’s time to and when I know that in the past those promises have worn out by mid-February. So I get it. I get that hearing someone declare that they’re going to be a new person in the new year makes some folks roll their eyes and maybe even utter a chuckle or a sigh. I get that we know that those kinds of promises can be hard to fulfill. I get that so many of our good intentions don’t turn out the way we want them to. I get that seeing someone rearing with enthusiasm we don’t feel can be uncomfortable. But really?

Are we really against the idea of someone deciding to try to change, even if it’s never worked before? Are we really wanting to mock someone who’s trying to improve themselves? Are we so sure that you wouldn’t succeed that we’ve decided the whole enterprise is ridiculous? I think there are lots of reasons behind this resolution bashing thing, but I can only talk about my own.

When I was a resigned resolution basher, it had everything to do with previous failures and being terrified of success. When it came to my weight I didn’t want to make a resolution because I knew my enthusiasm would wane in a few months. Why make a promise I can’t keep FOREVER? When it came to changing some of my habits, I decided that “I yam who I yam” (even if I don’t like it very much). When it came to taking some risks in my professional life, well, yeah, no resolutions there because that’s just WAY too frightening.

I’ve done some work on all of those things – without resolutions, and looking back at those moments from the other side makes me wonder if making a resolution is all about success. Maybe there are other things to be gained in that whole process. Maybe trying and failing is better than staying firmly planted exactly where we are. Maybe a resolution is an opportunity to force a little action, and sometimes a little action is all it takes.

pexels-photo-636243The truth is that this opportunity of celebrating the new year with a new goal is one that shouldn’t be missed. Maybe you’re not interested in buying a gym membership that you will only use for a month. But maybe you DO have a super secret goal, a tiny burning desire that you haven’t told anyone about. Maybe this moment in time when we get to start new things on a clean page of a fresh planner is a great time to ask yourself what you can do today to get just one step closer to that super secret goal. And then tomorrow? You can take another one. Maybe that’s all it needs to be. You don’t need to tell anyone. You don’t need to declare it on Facebook. Maybe you just need to say it to yourself so you can stop hiding it from your heart and from your amazing brilliant brain. Give that dream some energy and some air; maybe something can come of it after all.

Happy New Year Friends.

xo,

julia