Just Stop It

There is an SNL skit with Bob Newhart playing a psychiatrist. His method of treatment, he explains, usually only takes about five minutes. The joke is that what he does is to tell his clients to just stop it. It’s really funny, at least to me and folks who do work like mine. It’s particularly funny because there is some truth to it, as brazen and unfeeling as this approach seems. Today I want to talk about a situation where “just stop it” is really probably the best advice that I could give you.

design-desk-display-313690One of the complaints I hear the most frequently has to do with busy schedules and the amount of that time that is spent doing things that aren’t fulfilling, often for other people’s fulfillment: the scheduling, the kid ferrying, the going the extra mile at work because of someone else’s stupidity, the saying yes to every opportunity to help anyone. If I were to say: “Just stop it,” I know the look I would get. It’s that “You don’t understand. My life is not like yours. Maybe that works for you. I thought you had children. Where ARE your children?” kind of look. I couldn’t possibly understand.

And yet I do.

Because I have had a calendar like that. I have had days like that. I have had months and years like that, where nearly all of what was on my schedule was distasteful to me and was solely for the benefit of someone else. Truly I have. If you know me and you weren’t the beneficiary, that doesn’t mean this wasn’t happening. It just means you didn’t get in on the action; and just so you know, that window is closed.

If you’d asked me why I was doing all of that I would have told you it was all completely necessary. In retrospect some of it was completely necessary, but a lot of it was not. And THAT’s that discernment that would be so great to have when you’re actually in that moment, when you can’t catch your breath because you’re too busy doing all of the things.

My advice to you? Just stop it. Stop it all, at least for a day. You’ll figure out pretty quickly what’s truly necessary – like feeding children. You may also figure out that those people you are serving can do far more for themselves than you realized (hungry children are actually remarkably capable), but while that’s a great thing to learn – like a SERIOUSLY great thing to learn, even that is not my point with the Just Stop It exercise.

attractive-beautiful-blonde-1101726The point of Just Stop It is to make the yuck that’s down in there come up when you stop. When you just stop doing all of the things that you are doing to make it okay, what happens? What thoughts and feelings come to the surface?

Are you worried about what people will think of you? Are you afraid of looking like a failure? Do you need to have a super clean house to maintain some kind of parenting standard you’ve secretly bought into? Are you keeping yourself busy serving everyone else so you don’t have to figure out what YOU really want or face the fact that you don’t believe you could EVER EVER do that so it’s safer to not try? Okay, I meant to slip that last one in, but that wasn’t all that subtle, was it? My capacity for subtle is fleeting at times. Sorry (not sorry if that’s what you needed to hear).

When we just stop with the behaviors that we think are completely necessary and totally driving us crazy, we find out why we are choosing, yes choosing friends, to do them. We find out where the healing needs to happen. We find out why it’s so hard to get off the merry go round and take a breath. And when we figure out what’s under all of that activity, we can address it. We can ask questions about it: “Is that really true? Will they really think I’m a bad Mom? Do I care if they think I’m a bad Mom? Will I really get fired? Will I feel so guilty I actually can’t stand it?” We can check out that baggage and either repair the zippers or decide it’s time for a new super sleek and helpful carry-on, a new way of thinking.

attractive-beach-beautiful-1097781I so want that for you to be able to get off of that merry go round. If you think it’s not possible, I extra want it for you. Because love, I want you to breathe. I want you to breathe in the idea that there are an infinite number of ways to be in this world and that you haven’t found but a small fraction of them. I want you to breathe in the idea that nobody else really cares if you’re meeting some Pinterest perfect standard of anything. I want you to breathe in the notion that there really is a big gap between letting a few things go and having all of the wheels come off the bus in some catastrophic and irreparable way. I want you to breathe in and entertain the notion that your discomfort is trying to tell you something and that the longer you ignore it, the louder it will get. I want you to inhale the possibility that the things you want, the way you feel, and the experiences you crave really do all matter, every single one. I want you to know that you are still in there, and we would all really love to meet you.

Just One More Minute

We have a dog. He is getting older and with his aging comes changes. Baxter has always been a little different compared to our other dogs.

animal-animal-photography-black-and-white-113883Our previous canine companions were attention hogs. The first dog, a terrier mix, was a committed face licker and was most definitely a people person. He always just wanted to be exactly where we were, preferably on us, especially if it meant he could be on both of us at the same time. Our second dog bud was a little more standoffish initially – he had clearly been an outside dog and had not been treated well before us, but it didn’t take him long to decide that he, despite the fact that he weighed in at over 100 pounds, was in fact a lap dog. It was only when I got into my 8th month of a twin pregnancy that Gus had to give up having his head and torso on me. I had no lap for his giant cow head anymore.

animal-breed-canine-544269Baxter came to us as a five year old rescue. He was trusting from the beginning, but from his extremely matted and overgrown hair and allergic flea-bitten skin to his lack of interest in physical affection that our other dogs loved, it was pretty clear that his care had been spotty. He was never hostile, has never growled (even if you messed with his food), but he just didn’t seem to enjoy our attention the way our other pals did.

It has been a slow process for Baxter, but he has become a dog who LOVES physical attention. He went from a dog who would walk away while we were petting him to a dog who will lean on you so hard while you’re petting him that it can knock you over if you’re not firmly planted (he’s kind of big). He’s been hanging out in that space in a committed way for about two years and we’ve been relishing it.

And recently things have begun to change again. Baxter hasn’t been joining us on the couch as often. He is more hesitant to jump up on the bed, even if it’s storming (which is the only time that behavior is encouraged as he really is sort of pony-sized). He doesn’t seem to enjoy his walks for such a long time anymore. He’s aging. He’s getting a little uncomfortable. I see the pain in his hind end when he stands up.

I’ve seen those changes and have changed my own behavior in ways that make things easier for him, but I didn’t think of everything. I didn’t add it all up and find ways to give him that physical contact even though he is not as interested in getting up WITH me anymore. I didn’t catch on until he began walking up to me and making a request when I am on the couch (in my usual position). I always invite him to assume his previously usual position next to me. Sometimes he takes me up on it, but oftentimes he just puts his face in my lap.

He does this when he returns from bus stop drop off with my seminarian. I am usually already on my laptop, doing a little writing, preparing for my day, working. In our previous arrangement, this was fine. He would get up on the couch next to me. I would type and occasionally rub his head while it was on my lap. I would multi-task and we would be together.

It is far more difficult to multi-task when he just puts his big old head on my keyboard. And I didn’t see what was happening. I didn’t see that this was what he could do right now. I didn’t see that this was the opportunity for both of us to have the connection that we’ve had these past few years. I gave him a little rub and then encouraged him to lie down.

IMG_6593This morning I caught myself. Just as I was about to ask him to lie down, I stopped and wondered how long he wanted me to rub his head, how much longer it would “take” for him to be the one to end the moment. I closed my laptop. I put both of my hands on his big sweet head and I just dug in to love in that moment. I did all of the things I know he likes best. I scratched right behind his ears. I rubbed his lower jaw. I rubbed his ears. He leaned into it as he does. It was wonderful. His pleasure was palpable, and I felt him relax. After what couldn’t have been more than three minutes, Baxter had enough. He backed up, found his new spot on the floor and lay down with a big sigh.

Everything changes so fast. So often I don’t see it as it progresses. And then I hit a moment where the changes become more obvious. And when I’m paying attention I see that. But even then I don’t always have the presence to give that change the extra moment that is sometimes required to figure out how to proceed with love. But what I know, thanks to my super zen teacher dog, is that more often than not figuring out how to proceed with love really only takes a pause, a breath, just one more minute. And if I can give that change the moment it deserves, I get to experience all of the richness, all of the love, and all of the connection that this life has to offer.

The Crazy Weekend Problem

Woman take a rest from hiking on the rockOccasionally I am reminded by fellow coaches that rest is a critical part of the process of growing and running a coaching enterprise. They remind me that “just being” and having time to “just be” is fundamentally necessary. What I don’t tell them is that it’s hilarious that they are reminding me of this because if they had seen me a few years ago they’d realize that my current schedule is SUPER restful and full of “just being” compared to my former life. I agree with them and continue to strive for even more rest and time to be, and then we get to the weekend.

This past weekend that involved sitting in a high school cafeteria with about 200 other parents and elementary and middle school students who are all participating in Destination Imagination (a very cool competition for kids). I was there ALL day. It was really, really, really noisy. It was full to the brim with energy. It was, in no way that was natural and easy for me personally, restful.

I was reminded in that moment of the importance of not defining my “rest” time according to the factory’s schedule. This notion that my rest time or my time to just be should happen on the weekend is both unrealistic and kind of mean. It has a 1950s suburban feel to it this idea – some sort of weird fantasy that never really was in all likelihood: the idea that Saturday would come and the kids would be playing in some creative and wholesome way, the house would be magically spotless and at some points friends may join us for a cookout (someone else would bring the food that requires effort), and we’d all play cards and drink weird cocktails. Yeah, it doesn’t really work for me either, but that idea is there, that the weekend is magic that is supposed to make up for everything else.

A few thoughts occur to me about this little fantasy:

  1. I could consciously make that Saturday happen.
  2. I could decide that that fantasy is not what weekends are for.
  3. I could decide that “just being” or resting once a week or only on the weekends is not a nice way to treat myself.

I am partial to number 3. I like it because it takes the pressure off of the weekend and for a family that includes a soon-to-be minister, a coach who hosts personal development events, and kids who like to participate in things that happen on the weekends, maybe taking the pressure off of what the weekend should do for us is restful in and of itself.

pexels-photo-321576-2What that means though, taking that pressure off of the weekend, is that I need to be extra conscious about building that time into my days – maybe even my everyday – in chunks of time that are workable. Maybe I could even do this in ways that I make known to my tribe or my colleagues so that they can treat that time as sacred. “Mommy is meditating; shhhh.” “Oh, she always takes a walk during lunch on Thursdays; she’ll be back in the office by 1.”

This has been my approach and I carry it out through a series of practices that I’m still cultivating, but I’ll share in case you need a few ideas.

  1. I keep a dream journal. When I wake up I try to write down what I remember about any dreams that I had in the night. This allows me to wake up a little more slowly and to forge a little connection to what’s going on in my brain while I’m not paying attention.
  2. I take a few moments for quiet reflection or prayer in the morning, sometimes before anything else, but on school days more often after the kid hustle and before my own. I sometimes write after this if something comes to me.
  3. When I feel stuck or overwhelmed or really anything that’s getting in my way, I write it all down. Yes, that’s a lot of writing because I write. Your practices could be something that works for YOU.
  4. Meditation. If you don’t like that word, follow my friend Martha Beck’s advice and just find a sit spot, a place you can be for a few minutes and notice what’s around you.
  5. I try to choose (at least some of the time) activities that don’t feel like they block out everything else as much as TV or social media can in the evening, activities that make me feel refreshed or satisfied in a way that digital entertainment sometimes fails to do for me, like reading or working on some music.
  6. I take daily walks with my dog.
  7. I keep regular appointments for self-care.
  8. I am honest when I am sick and really honor that by taking excellent care of myself.

I try to build that rest in all of the time, but I still sometimes crave it on a Saturday when I’m scheduled for a big, loud, crowded activity. What can I do then? I’ve found three strategies that are particularly helpful:

  1. closing my eyes for a second and taking a DEEP breath – letting all of the noise sort of become one background noise, a hum. Remembering to take care of my needs.
  2. engaging fully in what’s going on. I sometimes resist the energy level and the noise and it just makes me more uncomfortable. When I can find a way to engage WITH it, I tend to feel better and more satisfied.
  3. finding a way to take a break. When the kids at our competition got to the Dance Party in the gym part of the day, I lasted about 10 minutes before I requested the car keys from my husband and went to take a nap until the awards ceremony. It was delicious. The other Moms who were there solo simply asked one another to keep watch while they took short breaks. And nobody minded. We ALL needed a little time.

Processed with VSCO with e5 presetWhat are you asking of your weekend? Are you saving up all of your self-kindness for Saturday only to find that Saturday’s schedule is grueling? Maybe it’s time to adjust your thinking AND your calendar. I think you deserve to feel better a little more often, don’t you?

If the answer is yes, but you can’t imagine how you could possibly have enough time for that, check out my free mini book: 10 Ways to Make Time. It’s got all of my favorite and personally tested strategies for finding more time for the life you actually WANT to live.

 

What To Do When You’re Too Busy

I remember seeing a couple on a TV show (or maybe a movie) scheduling a time to have sex. I remember nothing else about the show, the context, anything else. I just remember my horror. I remember thinking that was crazy. I remember rolling my eyes at how people could let their lives become that busy, rigid, regimented. I remember all of those feelings. I think I was around 23. And now I shake my head at my own darned self.

Adulting Can Be Extremely Busy

My family has entered an extremely busy phase. I thought we were in this phase before, but it turns out that the previous phase was just a very busy phase; THIS is the extremely busy phase. The exact circumstances aren’t that important, but I will share that my husband is a full-time seminary student on top of working, so if you have any experience with some version of that, you may have a sense of what things are like here. I am also nurturing my fledgling business, and oh, right, the kids. I won’t go on and on, because like I said, the circumstances aren’t that important. What is important is the way that we handle this phase. We’ve been bumping around a bit, trying to get to the place where we can actually observe ourselves so we can make adjustments. It has been a rough couple of months, but we reached meta this morning – we took a look at ourselves and realized there was a lot to improve on.

How are we going to make this crazy whirlwind better? The short answer is that we’re going to schedule things that are important to us. This will now be a mark of the level of priority – if it makes it on the calendar, it is important. I realize, however, that that is a short answer indeed and that it is not very helpful if you’re not already good at the whole scheduling thing. So, let me break down some other things we’re doing.

8 Steps to Fix “Too Busy”

  1. If it’s a triage situation – like you’re emotionally bleeding out/exhausted/freaking out: Get Real Clear on What’s Not VERY Important and eliminate it. I was going to say “scratch it off your list,” but ELIMINATE feels better right now. Get rid of it. My husband and I are both crossing one thing off our respective lists this morning because we realized he is leaving town and we needed to talk about all of this AND just see each other for a few minutes. I’ve been sick, and oh, yeah, the kids. We each found the least important part of our respective days and are eliminating them.
  2. Feeling better when you're overwhelmed.Stop allowing yourself to be “overwhelmed.” Overwhelm makes us spin, which is incredibly unproductive. The thoughts that create overwhelm are usually some version of: “It’s too much. I can’t possibly do it all,” or the classic circular: “I’m so overwhelmed.” Spinning won’t help that feeling. When I get that spin feeling, I try a thought like: “I need to figure out how to do this day/week/month” so that instead of feeling more overwhelmed, I feel determined to get down to business. That always feels better and is far more productive than the “I don’t know” freaking out that comes with overwhelm. This is particularly difficult if I am tired, which leads naturally to…
  3. Recognize the importance of, and schedule self-care. When we are extra-busy we have a tendency to make cuts in the worst places. We stay up a little later to finish one last bit of work or to have 10 minutes to ourselves. We get a little less careful with how we eat because we think we don’t have time to cook and eat proper meals. We skip taking a few minutes to just breathe because we’re sure we just don’t have time for that. I say all of this without scolding because I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else. I am especially guilty of the sleep part. And my body lets me know. I get less productive. I get WAY more grumpy. I get SO tired of it all. And if I keep pushing, I get sick. Usually not terribly sick and not for very long, but my body lets me know. Want to go from busy to totally UNPRODUCTIVE? Push hard enough that you get sick. Make your body force you to stop. The benefit? You may get some rest. You may recognize that you’re doing yourself in. The cost? All of that stuff you had to do just gets moved around more. Being busy does not get solved by being tired, poorly nourished and stressed out. It’s really that simple. If you don’t take care of you, it will all get worse.
  4. Sit with your goals/plans/big list for a few minutes each day. Check in. What is it you are trying to accomplish? What takes priority this month/this week/today? What steps do you need to outline for yourself to get from where you are to there? When are you going to do those things? Write it down or type it in – whatever your planner penchant is – do that.
  5. Make planning a part, but not a terribly LONG part, of every day. I’ve talked here about my morning meeting and how invaluable I find it. Every day I move from looking at my goals/plans/objectives to actually planning out when I’m going to do those things. I allot very specific amounts of time, not depending on how long I think it will take, but based on how long I want to spend on each item. 90% of the time I actually finish in that amount of time (which is always shorter than I think it will “take”).
  6. Check in with involved parties on a regular basis. We have in the past, and will begin again, having the Sunday evening meeting. This is when we review what’s coming up in the next month and in the next week so we know who’s going to be where and when. So we identify gaps (oh yeah, kids) in case we need to enlist childcare. So we don’t get caught off-guard by someone else’s meeting or travel. So we can prepare for events rather than constantly reacting to them. AND so we can thank each other for picking up one another’s slack.
  7. If it’s important to you, schedule it. And yes, I mean everything, including haircuts, naps, walks, extra long showers because you have a cold, trips to the drugstore because someone’s prescription is ready, lunch dates with your spouse. If it’s important, treat it like it’s important. Schedule it and honor your schedule… which leads me to….
  8. You can handle it all. Learn to trust yourself.Honor your schedule. If you MUST make a change, be conscious about it. Think it through. Recognize all of the implications. Review the rest of the day and see what impact it will have. Never do it because you don’t “feel like” doing what’s next on the schedule. Honor your commitments to yourself and the overload gets a lot less stressful because you will know that you can count on yourself to meet your obligations. You will know that you are reliable and capable. You will know that you are trustworthy with your own time.

You Are In Charge

There’s a lot more I could say, but I’m looking at this like an emergency room situation. These are the basics for moving from insanely and overwhelmingly busy to just plain busy – but busy that is directed, goal oriented, planned, and all-inclusive. This is busy that assumes taking care of oneself in all of the ways. This is busy that allows for productivity skyrocketing because you actually feel good AND feel able to do it all, and you can, OR you can make some decisions that make it all work.

You may fight me on this but you really are in charge. I know, I know, we’re not all self-employed, BUT we are all able to make can keep commitments to ourselves. We are all able to adjust our level of effort so that we can actually complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time. We are all able to use calendars and timers. We really are, and if you are where I was, if you scoff at the use of such tools to mark the time in your day, that’s okay. Just call me in a few months when you’re EXTREMELY busy and I’ll tell you how I do all of that.

 

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