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?

List of Beautiful, June 6, 2016

Walking the morning after a rain
Baby girl’s dazzling laughter after throwing herself backwards on the bed
How simply opening a book and beginning to read stops an argument and brings them running
Boy 1’s hysterical, eyes-won’t-open laughter at a silly muskrat in a picture book
A desert willow’s blossoms clouding the air next to the mailbox with their scent
A well-placed shade over a play-set at the park
How Boy 2 jumps up and down from a crouch when he’s happy or excited
Husband bringing me ice water, with a straw

Buddy Breathing

When my husband was in the military, one of the trainings he had was in what was called Buddy Breathing. Recruits were paired up for a pool workout where they had to share an oxygen tank while swimming underwater. Quint figured out quickly the best way to stay calm and in control was to push the oxygen over to his partner right away, letting him fill up and keeping both calm. Other teams would end up fighting over the oxygen as they grew panicky about getting enough air, which only created more stress and made them fight harder to get the tank.

We have been reflecting since our most recent family trip about what made it successful (in other words, relaxing, peaceful, and enjoyable), and one of the things we did was to practice what we have come to call Buddy Breathing. This stage of parenting three young children requires a lot from both of us, and resources such as time and energy, much like that single oxygen tank between swim partners, are often limited. And while I absolutely believe in “putting on my own oxygen mask first” through self-care, my husband and I have identified a few ways we can look out for each other, contributing to both of us feeling a greater sense of peace and well-being. One way we do this is to encourage each other to get at least a few minutes of exercise in while the other watches the kids. On our trip to the mountains, this meant a few times a day, one or the other of us would say, “now’s a good time for you to take a walk.” Sure, we still often ask each other for what we need, but looking for opportunities to let my partner take a deep breath of air calms me too.

Beautiful Things: May 12th, 2016

One of my most important purposes for homeschooling is to fill my children’s lives with beauty of all kinds. At the same time, I sometimes have a hard time noticing and holding onto the beautiful things that dapple our days. (To be fair, I just learned that there is neurological evidence that negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences imprint instantly on us, whereas positive ones need to be savored for a minimum of 15 seconds to attach).  So, I am keeping lists.

-a canopy of tree shade in our yard, sunlight softened as it filters through
-baby girl sifting mulch at the playground with her fine fingers
-my middle boy smelling the baby’s head, and telling me it’s a different kind of sweet than me
-first boy’s counting to 100 by I-Love-You’s at bedtime (I-love-you 1, I-love-you 2, I-love-you 3….)
-hearing each of my loved ones breathing in the still of night
-the poem Pied Beauty, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, taped to my bathroom wall
-reading Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
-a giraffe’s slow grace at the Zoo, and how I enjoyed the little train ride, with my arm around my boy
-second son asking me what my favorite part of the day was, and when I answered about his giving me a card and book, he said with satisfaction, “I thought you were gonna do that”
-dancing and singing with my kids and remembering when my mom did the same with my sibs and me
-how burying my nose in my kids’ hair can change me and the trajectory of my day in a moment

Enjoying These Moments

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Navel oranges, their juice bursting in their skins

Painting my nails while all my boys are out

Bees busy in the honey-sweet blossoms

Sketching from a favorite photograph

Listening to Beatrix Potter stories while the kids paint

Reading The Count of Monte Cristo for the first time

Baby Girl’s movements becoming larger, fuller

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