Procrastination and Perfectionism

I haven’t posted in awhile, and it’s because I’ve been committed to finishing this calligraphy project. And I did it! Here’s the thing, though: I told a neighbor I would write out this favorite quote of hers something like SIX YEARS AGO. I have mixed feelings about finishing this. I’m happy that it’s finally done, but man! I’m completely lame that it took me this long! And it wasn’t even that hard to do, once I got down to it. Last weekend we had a church activity featuring a talent show and visual art displays, so I finally decided that this would be my self-imposed deadline. Turns out a deadline was all I needed, even though it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone else but me whether I had had this piece on display or not.
This unfulfilled obligation had been a burden and drain on my mind, conscience, and energy for so long. So why didn’t I just get it done long ago? Well, because I clung to excuses, like:
1. I haven’t done calligraphy in years, so I’ll need to practice consistently for a long time to get it back.
2. It’s not that important anyway, and I’m sure she’s completely forgotten about it after all this time. (I haven’t even seen her since I moved two years ago, and probably never will again.)
3. I don’t have my art paper since it’s in storage in a box buried under a ton of other boxes.
These excuses are so dumb, but isn’t it interesting that we so often take chicken-exits just like these? This first one has to do with perfectionism. I’m sure we’ve all let this hold us back from time to time. It’s been said that “Perfect is the enemy of good,” and I must agree. Perfection is unattainable. It’s important to do quality work, but at some point, it’s even more important to just be done already and use our time, energy, and resources in more constructive ways.
The second cop-out has to do with an assumption I created about someone else. Even if you find out later that your assumption was correct, assumptions are not real, because you just make them up in your mind. What’s more, it doesn’t matter whether or not she forgot about it; I, clearly, had not forgotten. (Well, I actually did forget about it for a couple years, but I never completely forgot.)
The third excuse is simply one of convenience. It was solved so easily. I just went to the art store and bought a new pad of paper for like $8. Yes, I don’t like to go out and buy something when I know I already have it somewhere, but if a lousy $8 is stopping me from getting my goal, then I’m lazy and cheaper than cheap.
I learned a lot about myself as I examined my contrived excuses, which I had constructed in an attempt to assuage my guilt about not following through with my commitment. Although I’m generally an Upholder (see Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies in response to expectations), I tend to procrastinate especially those things that I feel reflect on me as a person. I erroneously think that taking more time will improve my performance on whatever it is, but that’s not usually true. It just stresses me out. And sometimes makes me even less effective. And besides, every artist or performer I’ve ever known is hyper-aware of every little flaw in their creations, but it turns out that almost no one else even notices or cares. We think people are always going around judging everything about us, but I doubt many people are really that petty. Just think about it. How much of your own thought-energy goes into judging others and what they’ve created? Probably, hopefully, not too much.
I’ve also realized that if something doesn’t feel urgent or timely, I require some kind of external motivation or I’ll never get it done. This is how I am with compiling family memories into photo books. Since it’s not an urgent undertaking, everything else always out-prioritizes it. So I’ve figured out that if I buy a voucher for a photo book, the expiration date on the voucher becomes my deadline, and I’m motivated to finish because I hate wasting money.
I wish I could just choose a day and time as an arbitrary deadline for any of my goals, but the thing is, if I invent the deadline for myself, I know it’s not real and I ignore it. Usually, if someone else chooses the deadline, then it’s suddenly important. (My husband is learning this about me, too. I can see weeds in the garden as well as he can, but I probably won’t weed unless he specifically asks me to get it done this week, or by tomorrow, etc.)
I’d really like to be one of those completely self-motivated people, and maybe someday I can be, but for now, I choose to accept myself the way I am and find ways to make it work for me. Are you this way, too? I think most people generally are. Having a mentor or simply an accountability partner can help you create and stick to deadlines for your goals (and action steps within a larger goal), and may even empower you in following through and being as effective as you can be.
I’d love to hear from you, readers. What kinds of excuses routinely hold back your progress? Do you require external deadlines? How do you motivate yourself to follow through?

The Formula for Happiness

Do you think it’s a little far-fetched that I can tell you right now the simple formula for a happy life? “The way to happiness is different for everyone,” you might argue. That’s the beauty of this particular formula. It can work for anyone, in any lifestyle. (This information comes from Tony Robbins, Creating Lasting Change.)

First, think of an area of your life that you’re really pleased with. It can be anything: career, health and fitness, financial situation, connection with your higher power, home and family, relationships with friends, etc. Now, think for a minute about why are you so happy with this particular aspect of your life.

Personally, I would say motherhood is the area in my life that I’m over the moon about. I absolutely love it, each and every day. I find fulfillment in watching my three children explore their world, and I feel so blessed to have privilege of guide them in their journeys. I love how affectionate and expressive they are, whether it’s their hugs and kisses, or finding love notes all over my bedroom and bathroom. I can’t get enough of squeezing them and snuggling with them. They are also hilariously funny and incredibly smart. Yes, there are many moments of tedium, not always being able to do what I would like, and some setbacks along the way, such as when my toddlers clog three different toilets by flushing toys, destroy my parents’ plasma-screen smart TV, or do this

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to the carpet (I can’t really blame him, since I left my calligraphy ink within his reach). These incidences can be very frustrating, but they don’t take away from my happiness because I expect things like this to happen with little children. If, on the other hand, I expected to always have a clean, organized house and perfectly behaved children, I would not be happy as a mother, in my current reality.

Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Does that clue you in to the formula? Here it is: LC = BP (life conditions = blueprint) You are happy when your blueprint, or core expectations about the way life is supposed to be, are matching your actual experience in that area. For me, motherhood is everything I expected it would be, more even, so I’m not just satisfied with it but am overjoyed. (Hopefully that’s still the case when they’re teenagers!)

But what about the areas in which this formula doesn’t include an equal sign? Well, you simply won’t be happy until you make both sides of the equation match up. Consider an area in your life that you’re unhappy with (or at the very least, less satisfied with than the other areas of your life). Think about what your expectations have been for how life should be in that area, and you’ll probably notice a disconnect from the way things actually are for you now. When LC doesn’t equal BP, you experience frustration, pain, and/or disappointment. Suffering comes in when you believe you’re helpless and can’t change your life conditions (which is an illusion). In the situation you’re thinking of, can you change any of your life conditions to move closer to your blueprint/expectations? I would guess that if that were possible, you would have changed those conditions a long time ago. The good news is that you can always change what it means to you, or alter your blueprint.

Here’s my own example. I really love my husband, but at times I’ve been pretty disappointed about our marriage. I like to think of myself as a realistic person, but I had pretty lofty expectations about us being totally unified, being able to talk about anything, having my feelings validated, always enjoying each other’s company, and other things. The times I’ve been the most unhappy have been the times when the actual conditions of our relationship were furthest from these expectations. Thankfully, now that I’ve come to realize about the formula, I’ve altered my expectations (notice I didn’t say lowered). Although I would love to have a relationship encompassing these ideals, and although I believe that someday we will experience those things, I acknowledge the huge learning curve unity demands. As long as we’re moving in the right direction, remaining committed, and trying to improve, I can be satisfied with where we are currently. I can appreciate that the inevitable down-times make the up-times that much more significant. I can focus on recognizing and accentuating the positive aspects of our relationship and not worry about what I can’t change.

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Basically, when our life conditions don’t match our blueprint, we have three choices:

1. Blame something or someone. Say, “It’s not my fault.” We love to blame our problems on events and other people, because it directs our focus away from ourselves, which can seem liberating, but is actually a trap. You may also blame yourself, which, if you stop there, won’t do any good but causes you a lot of pain. You’ll never change your life in a state of blame.

2. Change your life conditions. If you’re unhappy with your income, then find a way to raise it. If you don’t like your figure, then start exercising and eating better, or (although I don’t endorse it) get surgery. If your kids are brats, get new ones. (Totally kidding.)

3. Change your belief system, or blueprint. This is the key to longer-term change.

If you’re suffering, stop blaming, and choose option #2 if possible, or #3 anytime. If happiness is important to you, trust me, this formula works. Let’s hear it from you, readers. Do your experiences match up with the formula?

A Tale of Two Sorrows

Okay, I finally feel like I’m in a good place emotionally to be able to post about this. I experienced pregnancy loss recently (mid-January). My first miscarriage had occurred over eight years ago, and the two experiences were totally different for me. While that first experience came as a complete and utter shock, this time around, I knew, without really knowing, what had happened. Or maybe I should say, my subconscious mind knew exactly what had happened, probably for several weeks, although my conscious mind could not have known until the doctor gave me the facts. Of all the things I learned from this sad experience, I found this fact to be the most intriguing. Our subconscious minds are plugged into a huge database of information. If we can learn how to access it, we can know everything we need to know in order to live healthy, full lives: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. More on that later. Back to the story.

Over Christmas and New Years, being 8-9 weeks pregnant, I had fully expected to feel completely nauseated at the sight, smell, or even mention of food. I was looking forward to that sickness, because for me, it’s the sign of a healthy pregnancy. There were times when I felt slight nausea, but I really think it was only because I had wanted to feel that way. But this wasn’t the only tell that something was wrong. I recall feeling apprehension, unease, and doubt even earlier than this, but it was so vague I didn’t think about it. I just never really got excited about this pregnancy, like I had with my others, and I didn’t get lost in thoughts of wondering and dreaming about new baby.

On January 1, I posted this on Facebook: “Learned two important lessons for the new year: 1. Always, always lock your car. The one time you forget, someone will exploit you. 2. Don’t be attached to things and stuff. You just might wake up one morning to find it gone. (But don’t tell me this while I’m mourning the loss of my Garmin, my entire stash of gift cards and store credit, my classic rock CD collection, and my Vera Bradley tote full of my kids’ toys and books. Let me have my cry.)”

After we found out that the van had been broken into, I had cried for almost an hour, and my eyes were sore the entire day. Since I’m somewhat allergic to my own tears, it’s just not worth it to cry to such an extent! Thanks to an insightful comment from my daughter, I soon came to realize that all that was just stuff, most of which could be replaced, and some of which didn’t matter anyway. So why the huge outburst of sorrow? My husband and I both blamed it on the pregnancy, and we were right, although not in the way we had thought at the time.

Then, on January 13, I posted this to Facebook: “I’m completely sick over having thrown away a large bag of my kids’ winter gear last week. I had thought it was Christmas trash. All the snow-pants, hats, gloves, scarves, boots…gone. Even my own never-worn gloves I got for Christmas. And we’re going tubing on Monday.” I had stuffed the gear into a trash bag for our trip to Colorado, and hadn’t unpacked it when we returned, just left it in the garage. That morning, I had been trying to find Lil Miss’s snow boots for her to wear to school, and I couldn’t find the bag of snow gear anywhere. I searched the house, asking everyone if they’d seen it, and Lil Miss chimed in: “If it was in a garbage bag, maybe someone accidentally threw it away.” As soon as she said it, I knew that that was exactly what had happened, and I had been the one who had thrown it away. I half-heartedly looked in the outside trash can to see if it was maybe still at the bottom, but I knew it wouldn’t be. I had taken a lot of Christmas trash straight out to the curb for pickup the week before. I distinctly remember that I had had one bag of trash in one hand and just thoughtlessly picked up the bag of winter gear with my other hand as I passed by.

As I realized what I’d done, I cried, and cried, and cried. I thought I was crying over my stupidity and thoughtlessness. I thought I was crying over the new Christmas gifts of hats and gloves, which we never got to use. I thought I was crying over how expensive it would be to replace all those snow pants and gloves. I thought I was crying over the material waste of it all. But it wasn’t until two days later that I realized the actual force behind all those tears. It was loss, grief and sorrow, deep inside me, that found an escape hatch and just came pouring out. Loss that I didn’t understand consciously, but a part of me already knew, even before I had been seen by a doctor.

My intuition (or spirit, plugged into the subconscious mind) had known exactly what had happened, long before the proof came. On the 15th, at my first doctor’s appointment and 11 weeks along, things weren’t looking good. Then, after another test on the 19th, it was certain that there’d be no baby. My procedure was done on the 21st, and it was all over with, and no pain to boot! The strange thing was, I didn’t shed one single tear on any of those days. Though I was sad, I felt at peace with it. There was no hard edge. Part of me felt guilty for not “acting sadder, ” like I was “supposed to,” but why put on an unnecessary act? I had already dealt with it when I had thought I had been grieving over that trivial stuff. Once the sorrow was out of me, it was out. That’s when I felt really grateful for having lost those things: those little losses caused me to process out my grief quickly so I could to move forward with life and be strong enough to support my husband and six-year-old daughter, who took the news of the lost pregnancy (or, I should say, loss of the potential son/daughter or sister/brother) very hard.

That hadn’t been the first time that as soon as I gave a little space for tears to flow, a dam broke open and an inexplicable flood gushed forth. With all the pressure that builds up behind emotions blocked up inside, if you try to vent just a little, it explodes out. And often, the tears that come out are manifestations of a much different emotion than that for which I first started crying. What is the point of tears anyway? Lubricating the eyeballs? Obviously, extreme weeping goes beyond this function, so there must be another physiological purpose. Tear ducts are actually release valves for the clearing of energetic waste products.

I’ve come to understand the way the body deals with an excess of emotion. This will make more sense if you understand how emotions are created in the first place. Although I’ve heard many knowledgeable people explain this, Dr. Joe Dispenza said it in the way that made the most sense to me. As your brain gathers sensory data from your environment, jungles of neurons organize themselves into networks and patterns. The moment these string into place, your brain creates a chemical that translates into an emotion, and that chemical gets stored in your body. These chemicals are the end-products of our past experiences; they have an emotional quotient. That’s how you remember significant experiences. So sensory information, combined with our thoughts, is translated into chemistry. These chemicals signal the gene that helps you react to your environmental condition. The chemicals can switch genes off and on. Feelings are a way of thinking. Emotions push the genetic buttons that turn genes up for health or down for disease. People look for familiar emotions, and it’s the redundancy of the same information that keeps signaling the same gene in the same way and wears down certain genes.

Along these lines, according to Dr. Bradley Nelson of The Emotion Code, each different emotion originates from a different organ of the body. Our intense or repetitive thoughts turn on the endocrine system, which then signals a specific organ to generate a certain chemical, the release of which becomes our experience of emotion. Since experiencing the same emotion over and over again means that one kind of chemical is being released in the same area of the body over and over again, it makes sense that that part of the body would become stressed or damaged.

Even though negative emotions have a necessary function at first (see this post), it is healthy for the body to unload the negative emotional energy after it’s served its purpose. Otherwise, that energy has to go somewhere, so it is absorbed into the tissues of our body. Science has confirmed that every kind living tissue gives off electrical vibrations. The chemicals of negative emotions vibrate at a lower frequency, which changes the way the surrounding tissues vibrate, and if the emotion remains there long enough, stress, pain and sickness are the result. Every time an experience triggers that emotion in us, our body feels it all over again, and we must expend energy to deal with that hurt. Because energy is the force that keeps us alive, to avoid unnecessary expenses of energy, the body wants to rid itself of negative emotions of sorrow, anger, fear, grief, anxiety, etc. This is why, at even the smallest provocation, a large amount of emotional energy may pour out. You give the body and inch, and it will run with it a mile.

This frequently occurs with the emotion of anger. Have you ever seen how a tiny annoyance can make a person lash out? Have you ever been mystified as to how you deserved to be attacked for a seemingly inconsequential action on your part? It’s because it wasn’t about you; it was that person’s anger over something else, the energy of which was poured out onto you. I understand now that the large majority of people don’t process their negative emotions and remove them, deliberately, in healthy and effective ways. People don’t have the skills and knowledge of how to do this, and because our culture has downplayed the huge significance of emotions, a lot of them won’t even try. Because they are unaware of their emotions, they are run by them and don’t even know it. (Read more about this phenomenon here.)

To be fully in control of your behavior, and thus your results in life, it is essential that you control your emotional state by not only being more fully aware of your thoughts, but releasing the negative emotional energy. There are many ways to do this, some of which I will go into in future posts, but I hope you will make use of crying as a release tool. Cry intentionally, with the purpose of catharsis. Children know to do this instinctually, and we adults can unlearn what we’ve learned and get back to that.

If you don’t know how to cry with intention, here are some suggestions:

  • watch a sad movie with a box of Kleenex
  • create a playlist of sad songs and play through it when you need to cry
  • write about your experiences, past and present, and really let yourself feel your feelings
  • find a way to relax before or during the cry, whether it’s a warm bath or going out in nature
  • set a time limit for your cry so it doesn’t extend beyond the point that it’s helpful
  • plan a regular time and place for your cry so that this release becomes a habit

Readers, do you have any suggestions to add to this list? And have you had any experiences similar to my own? I’d love to hear your stories!

Stick With It!

Have you ever second-guessed yourself when you were going the right way all along? I had a simple little experience with this last week, but the lesson it taught me was pretty profound.

My husband was out of town Saturday, and the weather was lovely, so I took my children on a little two-mile or so hike up to a gazebo overlook on our neighbors’ private land nearby. Lil Miss had been wanting to do this for a long time, since her grandparents used to take her up there to see the view. I hadn’t actually been up there myself, but it looked like it would be easy to find.

A couple of different paths looked like they led to the gazebo, but I was pretty confident about which one was the right way. We trudged up a very steep slope, but as we neared the top, I second-guessed myself. I saw another path, going downhill, that looked like it was going more in the direction of the gazebo. I sent Lil Miss up a little further to investigate the path we were on, and she reported that it turned off in the opposite direction than we wanted to go. So I decided we must not have been on the right path after all. We backtracked and took the downhill path instead, only to realize that there was absolutely no way to get up the steep slope to the overlook from there. At this point, Lil Miss was upset, stomping her feet and pouting, saying she just wanted to go home. But I cajoled her on, since we were so close, and now I was certain of the way.

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And so we turned around, again, and climbed up to the very same spot we had been before. After going only about twenty feet further than where we had been when we bailed, we saw that another hidden path turned off and went straight to the gazebo! If we had kept going just a little further, we wouldn’t have had to go up that steep part of the path twice. It had been impossible to see the path high up along the ridge while we had been down below it.

How often in life, when things get steep, do we start to second-guess ourselves? As soon as an alternative way presents itself, we question the validity of the path we’re on. We’re suddenly so eager to just assume we’re on the wrong path simply because it doesn’t seem to be headed in the direction of our ultimate destination. Instead of pushing ahead through our doubt, we immediately change course for another path that looks more welcoming. It would have been so much simpler to keep going just a little further, and then we would have been high up enough to know for sure if it was the right way.

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Now, the mistake hadn’t cost us much, just a few minutes of time and some effort. But it made me think about the times in life when bailing for a deceptively easier or more direct way costs a lot more. I think of marriages that fall apart, when one or both parties decide that the marriage just isn’t the right path. Did they know that absolutely and totally for sure? Or were they simply tired of walking uphill when things with their spouse got strained? Were they lured by another path that seemed more promising? The sad thing about this is that, depending on how far down the new path you decide to go, it can be very difficult to get back to where you were before you decided to bail.

I’ve faced this temptation in my own marriage. There were many times, years ago, that I thought I was sure I had married the wrong person, and that I’d be much happier not being married at all, or being married to someone else. That downhill path can start to look pretty appealing when the uphill struggle gets more difficult, especially with children in tow. But I had been simply contrasting my perception of my current reality with my assumptions about an imagined alternative reality. It’s easy to do this when we can’t see the future clearly.

I’m relieved that I stuck with it and didn’t fall for the deception, because now that I’m higher up, I’m 100% sure that the path I’m on has always been the correct one. I held on to my core belief that the marriage relationship is ordained by God and not something to be discarded; that once entered into, this covenant is a blessing in life and binding for all eternity. I realize that divorce is necessary in rare instances, but the decision should be very carefully evaluated, and only after all other options have been exhausted.

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I’ve seen people bail from the right path in other areas of life as well: career, a hobby, decisions about where to live, and religious choices. It’s sad when people only realize the original path was the right one for them, after they’d already forsaken it for another. Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t throw in the towel at the first, or second, or even third time you doubt yourself. Stay on your path and keep going up a little further to where your perspective is clearer and surer, and then make the decision about whether or not to turn back.

And what if you’ve already bailed? Should you stomp and huff and give up on your goal altogether? No! Not now that you’re certain of the way. You can retrace your steps, climb uphill, and get back to where you had been before. There is always a cost to pay, but there is also always hope.

The view from the overlook certainly was inspiring. It was worth the climb. The real challenge was getting the kids to leave! Little Toad plopped down on his belly to play in the rocks and dirt, refusing to come along when it was time to get moving. Hmmm, might there be there may a lesson in this, too?

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