What Do You DESERVE?

A wise friend of mine gave a talk about human rights this weekend. Given some of the things going on right now, it seems like an important conversation to have, although I suppose that’s true most days.

My friend rightly pointed out that human rights rest on a decision that we make as a community or as a society. We agree that there are certain things that should be true for everyone. My friend, and minister, explained: “You can’t do anything to be more or less worthy of human rights so long we agree that they exist.” They apply to everyone.

For those of us raised in countries or cultures where at least lip service is given to human rights we agree, that at least on some level, everyone has rights that cannot be taken away. Of course the argument rarely stops there and becomes more detailed and heated shortly after. Despite our disagreements about what our specific human rights are, we do seem to agree that they exist.

backlit-clouds-dusk-853168We agree that other people have rights that cannot be taken away, truths that are self-evident. We don’t however, on a more personal level, seem to be very good at extending the same baseline to ourselves. If we can agree that everyone has inalienable human rights, can we agree that just being able to be alive is a pretty low bar and that we ought to consider both raising the bar and being sure we are applying it to ourselves? What would it look like to grant ourselves rights on the individual personal level?

What can you say you always DESERVE no matter what? There’s the rub, isn’t it? That DESERVE. Yep, I capitalized it because it’s a hangup for me. When I think about what I DESERVE there is always a conversation about effort – effort that I must expend to be deserving, action I must take to be good enough, goodness offered to be worthy of whatever. It’s an old hangup and one I’m working on, but it’s deep and sometimes it takes time.

I have a hunch that many of us have never considered what we deserve no matter what – even on days when you’re not nice to others, on days when you don’t do your best, on the days when that one Girl Scout cookie becomes a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies.

What do you deserve no matter what?

I gave this some thought and the exercise was both revelatory as to what I am willing to believe I am worthy of and startling in its sometimes stark contrast to my own self-care,  even in its much improved state.

What do I think I DESERVE? (I’m still capitalizing because that word is still tough for me.)

  1. Sleep. This is first because I didn’t get enough last night. I think I deserve sleep even if I haven’t been swell that day.
  2. The highest quality food I can manage.
  3. Love. (whoa)
  4. Acceptance. (double whoa)
  5. Joy. (are you kidding?!)
  6. The occasional insight in times of trouble.
  7. Internal peace.
  8. Beauty.
  9. Community.

Yeah. I told you I’ve worked on it. I’m well past believing that I only deserve health care and shelter. Some people might find that spoiled, but understand I have no problem agreeing that everyone else deserves these things as well. I’ve only thought about it from my perspective. I am happy to imagine that your list might look different, and that you deserve all of it. The question is how do we get there? How do you, if you wish, get to having the audacity to want such a list, imagining that you could claim it?

The first step is the same as the reasonable first step in addressing problems on a larger scale, from Reverend Carl: “We need to be honest about the situation at hand.”

For those of you (formerly us) who have no sense of that which is inalienable in your personal realm, you have to determine whether or not that’s working for you. Do you (formerly we) feel neutral or badly more often than seems reasonable given the circumstances fo your life? Do you frequently find yourself overwhelmed, over-scheduled or overtired and then face the task of bettering your moments by consciously choosing behaviors that buffer you from the way you feel or simply cheer you up for a short time? Do your days feel more draining than fulfilling? Are you in some version of survival mode?

The situation at hand, if you answered yes to those, is that your current approach isn’t working.

OK Julia, Great, so I admit it’s not working, then what?

You figure out what your inalienable rights are. What must be true for you to live, to thrive, not just survive? If that seems too big a question, let me give you a boost. Let me start your list for you:

  1. I am allowed to think my thoughts and feel my feelings no matter how I or other people might judge those thoughts and feelings (and by the way, this is a longer version of the acceptance mentioned earlier).
  2. Now you go…

blonde-hair-blurred-background-dress-852793And when you finish that list, try on the idea that you actually DESERVE that. If that’s too big a leap, try on the idea that you should be able to have that list whether you deserve it or not because you are human, because you are the result of a moment in time and a biological improbability that will never happen again, ever. You really are special, just by being here. What would happen if you decided to treat yourself that way?

Where Does Your Energy Go?

I can’t even put a number on how often people tell me that they are tired. It’s almost like this is the assumed first part of the answer to how they are doing, and then we get to the rest. We are a nation of exhausted people (I’m speaking of the U.S., although I’m fairly certain we are not alone here). I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

First and foremost so many of us don’t get enough sleep. If you’re about to argue with me, ask yourself if you’re feeling argumentative because you’re tired, and then google sleep deprivation or sleep deficit and you will find all of the research you need to accept the reality that a huge number of Americans simply don’t get enough sleep. This is something I struggle with.

pexels-photo-269141-2My husband is a night owl. We have children. I need quiet time. These three circumstances don’t always play nicely together with the idea that more sleep is good. I HAVE, over the course of the last couple of years, taken the time to notice my own sleep patterns. My conclusions: the amount of sleep I usually get is not enough – period. How do I know this? When I have the opportunity (and an eye mask and ear plugs, yes I am high maintenance), I will sleep longer than my usual allotted time by at least an hour. I also know because I feel tired a lot. That’s a pretty good indicator.

Now, I have a lot to say about why I don’t get more sleep. Some of it is cultural, some of it is micro-cultural (my family), and some of it (probably the most important part, duh) is what’s going on in my own head, the messages I send myself, the stories I tell myself about my priorities and how I should be using my time. And those messages don’t just impact how much sleep I get. They also set me (dare I say “us”) up for fatigue in other ways.

There are other bits that are making us so very tired. I was reminded of the rest of this equation when I was reading an article that mentioned James Clawson’s book Powered by Feel. The premise of the book is that we spend a lot of time doing things that actually make us feel drained, tired, just plain BAD.

What?! Who would do that?

I do. Yep, I do. When I’m not paying attention I most certainly do. Extended time on Facebook makes me feel bad. Certain television shows (well, whole categories of television shows) make me feel terrible. PTA functions… yep, you guessed it.

How did I figure this out? After all, it’s not like these things make me feel straight up sick. For the most part the impact is more subtle, but cumulative. It all piles up to one big lethargic ache. So what would it look like to figure out what activities are draining the life out of us?

It would look like checking in on how you feel as you go through your day.

As you finish activities, take 5 seconds to notice how you feel. Keep it basic; are you sad, mad, glad, tired, frustrated, energized? Check in on the body and the heart. Take 2 more seconds and make a note of it.

Why all of this data collection? Because the way you feel is telling you something. It’s begging you to consider how you are spending your time. When you actually notice for a few days or for a week, you can sit down and really see where your energy is going. You can really see what your choices about how you spend your time are getting you.

Can you eliminate all of the stuff that doesn’t make you feel amazing? I don’t know. Maybe not. And so often that’s where the conversation ends, right? Well, adults just have to do ___________. Yeah, maybe. But do YOU have to do all of those things? What is flagging itself as purely obligation without payoff? What is making itself known as an activity that makes you feel crappy and yet you continue to do it? Is that time you are spending helping you feel the way you want to feel? When you are honest with yourself, you have the power to make some adjustments. When you are honest with yourself, you can tweak pexels-photo-595747things without tipping the whole adult responsibility apple cart. When you are honest with yourself, you can actually address the choices you are making that are draining you of your precious energy. When you are honest with yourself, you can pursue the feelings you WANT to feel.
What’s the use in that? Some of that is pretty obvious, but there is another layer (I love layers). When you choose and pursue activities based on the feeling you get, the outcome – your ability to win, score, be the best – becomes less important. Life really does become more about the journey, the moment you are in, your connection to everything that makes you undeniably, inimitably YOU. And THAT feels amazing.

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.

 

SaveSave