A small change that is transforming my days

A month ago I mentioned to my therapist that I had realized that as an Obliger I needed some accountability or coaching to help me meet my own goals, but was at a loss as to whom to ask. We had once met with an organizational/ life coach, but balked at the steep price; I’m pretty good at figuring out what changes I need to make, I just need someone to help me stay on track. So I was thrilled when she said she could add a component of accountability to our sessions. It’s not high pressure in any way, but knowing that I am expected to check in on my goals gives me the push I need. So I chose three small goals and made a chart: write for 5 minutes, exercise for 10 minutes, organize for 5 minutes every day– goals so small it’s hard not to do them, and I keep track of when I do extra. After several weeks, these habits are becoming part of my routine.

Last week, though, I decided to add a couple negative check boxes to my chart: I get to check a box if I don’t yell for that day, and if I don’t check my phone, email, or internet until I have had water, eaten, written for five minutes, stretched, and taken my vitamins. Already that second small change of delaying accessing media has had a great effect on my days. I feel calmer, more in control of my time, and more productive. The Power of Habit explains that we can’t get rid of bad habits, only replace them. So if I want to stop wasting time on the internet, I have to come up with a new behavior for when I get the itch, and starting first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. And if I can put off getting online in order to do some simple self-care tasks, I can put it off till I organize, read with the kids, get back from the store, etc. I’m starting to crave the feeling of accomplishing my goals first thing in the morning, feel more grounded knowing the morning hasn’t gotten away from me before I’ve done some things to take care of myself, and have been much more judicious about my time online.

What habits are you or would you like to work on?

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Trying, not failing

I’ve wrestled with all the feels this summer, and related to our decision to try out school, albeit a private, non-traditional one, I’ve struggled to fight off feelings of failure. Failure to do it all myself. Failure to impose a structure on myself. Failure to be able to meet everyone’s needs and my own, on my own.

But what I’ve come to see—through many sleepless nights and the tear-cleared sight that comes after a good cry—is that trying something different is not failure. It’s trying something different.

And something not working is something that can be worked on. I’m still exploring why I even frame so much of life in terms of a test to pass or fail in the first place, and why I so often feel like setbacks–even simply changing direction– mean I am failing.

A recent episode of the TED Radio Hour highlighted how one company incentivized failure, giving bonuses and vacations to teams who ended their projects instead of bullheadedly continuing along a path that wasn’t working and wasting time and resources. The message they were given was, come back fresh and excited to try something new.

We’re shelving full-time homeschool for my oldest for now, and trying something new, offering him and our family new experiences to grow. I don’t know how long it will be for or how it will go, but I am confident that we will learn through it, and whenever we need to, we can always try something new.

Reframing: Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to

I’m learning that small changes in thinking can reap huge benefits.  One way I have been learning to reframe my thoughts is by changing how I express what I would typically term an obligation, recognizing that I have a choice in my actions.  For example, instead of saying I have to do laundry, I say I want to do the laundry; instead of saying we need to go grocery shopping, I get to go grocery shopping.

I applied this yesterday at the pool, when I was saying to my son how much fun it was; I started to say, “We should do this as much as we can,” then amended myself, saying, “I want to do this as much as we can.”  Instant refocus on my enjoyment of the present moment, instead of on future pressure, guilt, or obligation.

So the mantra I’ve been repeating to myself lately is Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to.  One day I was sharing this with my husband and kids, and my boys took this phrase as a fun rhythm to play with as they went about their games, which made me smile.  These are the kinds of things I want to be a part of their way of thinking as they grow.

Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to.

It might seem insignificant, but it has given me a greater sense of peace and control to think that I’m not merely weighed down with obligations and things that are happening to me, as well as fostered gratitude for even the mundane and less pleasurable tasks.  I’ve also noticed it helps with my kids, who often ask, “Why do we have to?”  It’s hard to argue with, “We don’t have to.  We get to.”

What small changes in thoughts or perspective have made big differences in your life?

Nurture

I did not learn early
to love my body.
I sigh sometimes
to untangle curls, another
task in a day
of tasks.
I do not hold holy
in my hand
the toothbrush, take
a few moments more
to care for these teeth,
or carry enough
gratitude for the
geometry of the joints
that carry me.
But I am learning
what the massage therapist knows–
who sees naked form
bundled into bones,
sinews, and muscles splayed
on a table before him every day
like a sacrament–
there are only beautiful
bodies.

Year of Beauty

The morning is a rare gray, air cool and moist as I trod to the open dirt at the end of our neighborhood. I am looking for uneven ground, the better to challenge my muscles and joints.

My eyes, unaccustomed to the softness, still want to squint. Then I see the weeds. I feel like Rey in that scene: I didn’t know there was so much green in the universe. I need the clouds in order to truly see it. I look for more, and find the mesquites with their new spring growth. Diminutive fronds shower soft from their branches, a green whose name is unknown to me, almost the same as the pastel I chose during the therapy session last week. Inner resources. I closed my eyes and searched, questioning. What does the resource that is continuously renewed look like inside me? A tendril curling within, bright green and growing. Needing nurturing, thirsty. An ocean of water surrounding, feeding it. The depths of that ocean dark and calm underneath any tumult at the surface.

I reach as though to shake hands with the branch, pull back at the last moment when I notice the thorns, a good half-inch long, ivory colored like perfect fangs smiling at me. I test one carefully, half expecting it to be soft and undeveloped, but, no. It resists with a hardness that is surprising.

I so often feel overexposed here, a photograph blown out with too much light. I breathe deep, eyes open but still wary. The haze greeting me on this morning walk is ethereal, otherworldly, the sun’s light diffuse.

By the end of the walk I am in tears. There is so much beauty, and I need to see, and seek, it. I do not know what this will look like. I do know that I struggle to hold onto the beauty. As soon as the misty smudges across the sky register, I am caught in longing again, wishing for more of these mornings and glowering at the thought of the return of the usual desert harshness. Like the ones in the Snow Queen story who have got tiny shards of the magical, distorting mirror in their eyes, the ugly and painful magnified in their sight.

My baby is nine months old on this morning, her arrival in July in the middle of a storm, in the first hour of the morning. I will tell her yet again how beautiful she is when I get back from my walk. Year of Beauty, the words beating a rhythm in my head to match my march across the sand. Quail skitter from one mesquite to another. The soft mixing with the hard.  Beauty and thorns.

Practice

  I am only just learning about practice. I mean that life is all a constant learning and growing, and not to hoard supplies or wait until we’re better. To just do. I used to stress out about not wanting to “waste” paper or paints, not understanding that they are never wasted in learning, experimenting, discovering–only in not being used.

Now, all of my life is practice.
I practice being grateful for the low early rays and cool air of the morning, for the excitement with which small children greet the sun and each other.
I practice asking for help and calm before I rise.
I practice taking a moment to take care of myself.
I practice sticking to my grocery list.
I practice being gentle with my family, taking a calming breath and reminding myself a mess is not an emergency.
I practice naming my anxiety.
I practice, every day, the life I want them to learn.

The pressure of trying to get it right every time lifts a little each time I remember. Every day is an experiment, something which my kids seem to know already. Like the person who practices yoga or meditation, practice is not for an upcoming test, or for the “real thing” later (whatever that means). The practice is the thing, the step every day on the path I want to live.