Last week I was in Las Vegas at a huge conference for my job in IT. As I sat way up in the nosebleeds in the arena needed to hold the 6,000+ people in attendance, I felt more than a little insignificant. I looked around and saw so many people that seemed to have more knowledge and experience than me, and though that could be a good thing - an opportunity to learn - it was also overwhelming!
Where do I start? There is so much, so many choices bombarding me everyday. I struggle with choosing an area to focus on and get better at, because I feel like if I do, I will neglect everything else - and what if there was a better choice and one that would have been more important or had more impact? Nearing 40, I'm starting to feel like my potential is fading. I used to be the youngest in the room, and many times the only woman. That was my identity - the young, promising woman poised for success, but now I ask myself, "Where did my potential go? What has been my contribution, and did anyone notice?"
Now, when I hear a motivational speaker, I get all fired up...for a minute. When I was younger and less experienced, I was more easily inspired, but the older I get, my level of cynicism grows as my level of inspiration wanes. I'm now more grounded and practical and want to see my actions and contributions matter. I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out.
"I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out."
Last week, I realized it was time to embrace that being a small part of something big is enough. As I pondered what this meant in my real life here's what I came up with:
What about you? Do you feel like you have to be on top to matter or have you already mastered the art of teamwork and honing your specific skills so that you can compliment others with a common, big-picture goal? I'd love to hear from you. Comment below or email email@example.com.
I took a spring break from my blog. I'll be honest - for these past couple of weeks, I didn't know what to write because I've been feeling very "out of order," and I felt a little like a fraud for even having this blog when I felt so out of control. Control, that's a little word that seems to cause me so much trouble!
Last Sunday at church, was the first time in a while that I felt like it was ok to just sit and be. I was allowed not to worry, not to feel guilty about all I should be doing, and didn't feel inadequate for the things I've been trying so hard to do and not succeeding at. I was reminded that most of the minutia of my life, in the grand scheme of things, isn't really a big deal. The things that ARE a big deal, well, I can't really change the outcome in any way by worrying or fixating on them. The Bible verse, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?" from Luke 1225 is so true, so simple, and yet so hard to put into practice!
Like so many of you, I'm a faithful This Is Us watcher, and a couple of episodes ago, Randall and Beth were shown as young parents, playing the "what's the worst that could happen" game. I loved the reminder that even though there are always bad possibilities, the likelihood that they are going to happen is very slim, so it's not worth my energy to worry about them.
Most of us have had times in our lives where we wake up with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs thinking about what could happen today, and sometimes we convince ourselves ahead of time that we know what the outcome will be. I've learned through experience that there are two things I definitely can NOT do and those are predict the future or go back in time. Because I can't do those things, I'm trying to make it a habit to focus only on what I can control and not what I can't. It helps me to actually write out a list of each. When I spend my time on what I can control, it makes it easier not to fret about the rest. I realize now that being out of control is ok, is natural and once I accept it, can actually be freeing!
I found that the number of things I can control is much less that what I cannot. But that's what makes it manageable! My general list of what I can control is just this:
"When I spend my time on what I can control, it makes it easier not to fret about the rest."
For everything else that is swirling around in my head... it's helping me to identify specific things that are worrying me that are beyond my control. When I physically write them down it makes me admit that they are taking up space in my head and there's really nothing at all that I can do about them. Then I can give myself permission to just forget about them! I know that there are serious worries that many of us have related to our kids, health concerns, financial pressures, etc. I'm not saying just pretend they are not there, but focus on the parts of those that you can actually do something about. It's comforting to think that there's a bigger picture than I can understand, and I'm only responsible for my piece of the puzzle.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on control - how do you preside over your own life and how do acknowledge when something is truly out of your hands?
I'm a real life pinball machine. I feel that little ball pinging around inside of me. There are flashes of light competing for my attention, and I'm constantly pounding on the buttons that control the flippers to keep the ball from escaping the course. There are times I can remain focused, keep my eye on the ball and keep it from being lost. I feel proud of being in the groove and seeing my 'score' going up and up. But just when it seems like I've figured out this game called life, somehow I level up, and now instead of one ball to keep track of, there are two. And so it repeats until the pinballs have multiplied and become unmanageable and overwhelming. As my stress level increases, I can feel them in my chest, and I have to remind myself to stop and breathe. My head doesn't stop considering all of the demands and expectations. They are ever present - even in my sleep. I want to stop pounding the flippers and just let all of them slide, unopposed, down the chute. That would allow me to start a new game, a fresh one, where it's really possible to keep track of my responsibilities.
Rather than quit, we need to come up with strategies to make us better. Here are four ideas to get you started:
1. Recognize why you are overwhelmed
Are you always "on", always connected? Are you saying yes too often? Do you avoid delegating? Do you over promise or set unrealistic deadlines? If you answered yes to these, try disconnecting some of the time, saying no, sharing the load and giving yourself some margin!
2. Remove distractions
When you try to do too much, it's easy to try to multi-task to get it all done. When we try to do more than one thing at once, what we're really doing is building in distractions for ourselves. Work on short bursts of real focus. Try the Pomodoro Technique where you work without a break for a period of time, and then get up and away from your work for a short break time. Turn off notifications or even (gasp) close your email and instant messaging programs for a while so you are not tempted to check for incoming messages. If you work from home, designate an area that is your "office" and use that space only for working.
3. Take a break
Take short breaks like described above during working hours, but also consider taking a longer break from some responsibilities. It may be time to prune your schedule to allow for some free time in your week. Scheduling time to do nothing does not mean you are a slacker! Consider an actual vacation where you can really disconnect from your day to day responsibilities including the technology that ties you to them.
Practice really does make perfect. If there's something you want to accomplish, you have to get better over time. Learn from your mistakes, and systematically improve. Make lists, read books, seek advice from those who have been successful already.
I often hold back tears. There are various reasons - something reminds me of my grandma, my son outgrows an especially cute shirt, my husband says I look nice, someone else’s kid does a fantastic job at a school program - I’m really not picky with my teariness! Many of the times that I’ve felt like crying happy tears were because of music. A friend who I’ve never heard sing gets up and belts out an impromptu performance with a band, a Prince impersonator plays the piano, a child sings a clear, simple song, I am in a large crowd and can sing at the top of my lungs without judgement, the lyrics to a song say exactly what I feel, a song brings a vivid memory back to life, or the complexity and beauty of classical music overwhelms me - cue tears!
Music doesn't only make me cry, it inspires me. There are all sorts of music - some with lyrics that would make you blush, some that only sound good with a major twang, and some with a better beat than melody. I love all that this abstract thing we call music is - music is math, it’s art, it’s emotion, and it’s everywhere! Music brings people together, transforms us, allows us to express what’s deep inside, and displays God’s perfect design.
Music brings people together
Music connects us. Kids in a school choir from different social circles become friends over a common interest. Teens in a garage band become lifelong friends. A shared favorite band is a sign on a first date that a relationship will work. Strangers that both play an instrument are able to strike up a conversation.
You don't have to be a musician yourself to connect with others over music. Music is present at many of life's events where people gather - weddings, birthday parties, and even funerals. It's inter-generational, a conversation starter, and gives us a comfortable way to be together without talking. The same song can be appreciated by people who speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, or disagree on most everything else! Music connects us.
Music transforms us
Music transforms a shy kid into a performer, a stutterer into a clear communicator, a sad person into a healed person, a determined person into an accomplished one. I have a learned ability to play music, not a natural one. I’m so incredibly grateful to have taken piano lessons from ages 6-17 from an incredible musician, Ruth Berkebile. I am one of the hundreds of kids whose lives she impacted. (Here come my “leaky” eyes again!) I learned about getting better at something through practice and having the patience to see the results of that practice. She made me count, she taught me the theory behind the music, she made me sit up straight, she believed I could, she taught me to improvise. She gave me a lifelong gift, and when she suggested I teach piano, I could only hope to have a fraction of the impact she had on me and my life.
When I tried out for the school choir in Jr. High, I considered myself a "bad" signer, but thought I had a chance of getting in because I knew they needed accompanists. I got in, and though I don't know for sure it was my piano playing ability that got me there, I have a strong suspicion! Being in a choir gave me the opportunity to learn that I could be fulfilled without being the best, that surrounding myself with others who were better than me would help me grow, and that I could get better even without a natural ability. One of my proudest accomplishments was when I went from a novice singer who sang quietly to getting a 1 rating in a solo singing contest. Mr. Howard Whittlesey was my choir director that, even though he had perfect pitch, believed in students who didn't. He taught, he coached, and he connected his students with other musicians who helped each other grow. He gave structure and attainable goals that built on one another. What an incredible lesson about our own ability to transform our lives!
Music allows us to express ourselves
Now here I am at 38 years old, teaching a few young kids piano lessons (including my own children), getting to play at church occasionally, playing the piano for fun, and enjoying getting better with practice. It’s amazing to have the chance to disappear into the music sometimes, and even to focus on technique and small improvement. When I'm stressed, it helps to sing along with the car radio, listen to classical music before bed, play a familiar song on the piano at home, or throw myself into trying a brand new song.
Most of us have playlists we listen to when we feel a certain way - angry, romantic, excited - and ones that help us with certain activities like exercising, studying, or sleeping. Emotion and music are linked together. Music helps us to experience emotions again and again. You can hear a certain song and be immediately transported to the same emotions you had when you heard it the first time. My husband and I, like most couples, have a song, and even though it became our song over 20 years ago, I still have that feeling of young love when I hear it.
"...music is math, it's art, it's emotion, and it's everywhere!"
Music shows me God
There is so much math and symmetry and so many interconnected relationships in music, that my mind can't comprehend a way that it could have just "happened." Someone had to design it. Though I myself don't have a musical ear, many do, and there's no other way that I can explain a small child with the ability to sit at a piano and play any song they've heard or a singer who can harmonize and improvise or a composer who can dream up symphonies than to believe those people have God-given gifts. Music has long been a way to praise and worship, and many musicians get their start in church. I believe in a creator God, and I think music was a pretty incredible creation!
A life in order is what I write about, and I think music can play a large part in a meaningful life. Are you taking advantage of all the opportunities listen to, play, learn, sing, teach, feel, appreciate, see God, and see others’ hearts in music?
I enjoyed the review and reflection process that I just went through about 2018 and how it helped me prepare for this new year. I was planning to end the exercise with a perfect, one word representation of what I wanted to be in 2019. I really wanted to wear one of those bracelets that have been in all the social media ads with the little metal disc displaying my whole annual plan distilled down into one word...but I couldn't do it!
Last year, I came up with a series of questions to ask myself that helped me define not just one word, but several areas of focus for my year. I wanted to try something different this year, but I realized that different doesn't mean better and after a few false starts, I stuck with last year's method. You can read about it and download FREE worksheets here.
This year, I was able to add a new portion to my review - I analyzed my last year by jotting down some successes - and failures - from each area of focus that I’d defined during my planning session for 2018. I was kind of rough on myself, recognizing more failures than successes. I almost stopped the review feeling like it wasn't worth doing, but then I decided to look through my calendar to see what I'd been up to. I made a list of all the cool things I'd done, and for those that were repeated (like date night, volunteering, and time with friends), I began tallying all the times I'd done them. Soon, I started feeling pretty accomplished and began to realize that some of my proudest moments weren’t ones I’d planned for. My prior year's planning and goal setting process provided me the structure to accommodate and excel at unexpected opportunities.
"...some of my proudest moments weren't ones I'd planned for. My prior year's planning and goal setting process provided me the structure to accommodate and excel at unexpected opportunities."
One thing that I had no idea would happen in 2018 when I did my planning last year was that I would dip my toe into sales through Clever Container (and be pretty successful at it!) Though this experience only lasted about 6 months - you can read about how I handled my disappointment about that here - it got me really excited about 2019! What is ahead for me that I can’t even fathom right now?? It also helped me realize that the unknown doesn’t have to be scary, it can be exhilarating! Be wary of counting on things to just fall into place, though. I really believe reflection and planning are still critical to our own success and well-being.
It doesn’t matter that January 1 has come and gone - that’s just an arbitrary date that many people use to give them a clean slate, but you can do this exercise anytime! Give it a try - ask yourself some questions about your past and your future. It is really enlightening to see what commonalities appear and how you can get laser focused on certain areas of self-improvement and set yourself up for growth in ways you can’t even imagine at this point in time.
I’ll share my 2019 areas of focus with you below, but I want to be clear that these are just categories or cues for specific goals that I will create and review throughout the year. Read about some goal setting tips here. This year I want to focus on:
I’d love to hear about your plan for this year! Were you able to come up with just one word to drive your whole year, or do you have several areas to focus on? What are you most excited about for 2019? Share with us below in the comments or join me on Facebook!
This weekend, I was at my last vendor with Clever Container, and as unsuspecting shoppers walked by, I would ask, “would you like to get more organized?” Several people replied, “If I got organized, I would never find anything!” The first couple of times, I chuckled assuming they just said the first thing that came to mind to shut me up so they could pass by my booth without feeling guilty for not stopping to browse. But when I heard the same statement for the third, fourth, and fifth time, I started thinking that maybe there is a widespread misunderstanding about what organization really is or what it should be.
The Clever Container slogan (and a big reason I began selling their products) is “Make Room for Life.” This is the spirit of what being organized is to me. On my website’s homepage it says,
"Getting a life in order is so much more than store-bought organizing containers, a white board calendar, and cute office supplies -- it's about a realistic system that honors your priorities"
So the idea that getting organized would actually make life harder or less efficient is really a foreign concept to me. I wonder if those who made that comment are thinking of getting organized as a cookie cutter solution that someone else told them was the “right way.” To those of you who have avoided changing how you do things, where you put things, or how you think about your things, I want you to have hope that there are ways to change that will actually improve your life - in the way that you want to live it. We all need a personalized approach to organizing, and here’s how to get started:
How You Do Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
My oldest son's bedroom is...well, let’s call it an organizational challenge. A few months ago, it got especially bad, so I sat in his room with him and told him he was my organizing client, so I asked him the three questions above. He loves to read, so we decided a reading nook made sense for him. Obviously he needed books, and he also wanted a lamp, some pillows and blankets. The answer to what was in his space that he DIDN’T need was the key to him really buying into getting it organized. He had a large bookshelf, but it was full of board games. It bothered him that others came into his room all the time to get a game, so we were able to do some shelf shuffling and relocate all the board games to a more central location and fill his bookshelf with books. We were able to bring in most of the other items he needed for his reading nook - a bin that fit in the bottom of the bookshelf and some pillows and blankets - from other areas in the house. We bought an inexpensive clip-on lamp to complete his nook! Now this is his favorite area in his room, and though it’s not perfectly clean all the time, it has vastly improved since we defined the space, got rid of what didn’t belong, and put everything he needed in a central location.
Where You Put Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
In my video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen, I talked about organizing in zones. I have a baking zone with one cabinet that houses baking ingredients and measuring cups and spoons. In the cabinet directly beneath, I have a plastic bin with a lid containing all my cake and cookie decorating supplies - sprinkles, cookie cutters, piping bags, etc. The counter top between those two cabinets has an outlet where I can plug in a mixer and has space for mixing bowls. I created this zone in a logical area near the oven. I made it accessible by making sure I could reach everything easily. Using a bin that I could just put up on the counter instead of having to get on my hands and knees to look through a shelf in a lower cabinet was a great improvement! Finally I made it pleasing to the eye with matching, labeled canisters for my flours and sugars.
How You Think About Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
My youngest son is fortunate to be near the bottom of a great hand-me-down chain, so he has a LOT of clothes. It is overwhelming sometimes with how many little shirts and pairs of pants I’m trying to stuff into his dresser drawers. When there is too much, he finds it difficult to put things away and we end up with half open drawers overflowing with unfolded clothes. I get mad because of the mess, but feel guilty if I don’t use all the clothes we have been given. Then we both get frustrated when we can’t find that one shirt that he actually does like because it’s smashed among all of the other shirts that he finds just so-so. I had to learn that less is definitely more in this situation! Now we go through every piece of clothing to decide if it fits AND if he likes it. If the answer is no to either of those questions, the item gets donated or trashed. As you can read in a previous post, The Seasonal Switch, we only store one season of clothes in all of our rooms (partly due to the lack of closet space in our 100+ year old house). When you store things out of sight for months at a time, when you get them out, they feel novel and fresh again! I also do this with stuffed animals and rotate occasionally. There are a few instances were we don’t have ENOUGH of something, and I finally realized that it was worth the extra few bucks to buy another package of underwear to stop the frantic morning rush to find a clean pair!
I hope this personalized approach will prevent you from scoffing at the idea of getting organized. Or maybe you now realize that you are pretty organized, it's just not what you thought of as the "regular" way of being organized. If you can find things, don't feel overwhelmed by your stuff, aren't frustrated or angry because you lose things or forget to complete tasks - you're already in really good shape! If you've still got a ways to go, that's ok, take this approach to get organized space by space.
The title of my my blog is My Life In Order, but I have to admit, this weekend, I did not feel very orderly! One of the things I enjoy most is ending - in a quick and unexpected way. I learned this weekend that Clever Container is going out of business in just a couple of weeks. Clever Container is a company I have worked for since June selling organizing supplies. It has been more fun and fulfilling and I was more successful at it than I ever expected! I had plans for a long future and a lot of growth with the company, and it all just ended with one phone call. To say I’m disappointed is a severe understatement.
Over the weekend, I felt like doing a whole lot of nothing. All my grand plans for Saturday got derailed when I learned this news. I didn’t feel like cleaning, wrapping gifts, doing paperwork, or even spending quality time with my friends and family. I really kind of wanted to just crawl into bed and binge on Netflix while eating chocolate, but instead, I trudged on reluctantly. I soon realized this disappointment was interfering with my productivity in a big way, and that made me kind of mad! My future had already been changed by this news, and now I was struggling to do some basic tasks and to enjoy the things I normally look forward to. I had a couple of choices. I could be upset and wallow in it or I could control the things I could control in the moment. For me, a clutter free house, organized paperwork, and a productive day are things that I can directly control. After giving myself some alone time to mope a little, I spent time doing things that had a visible impact in my house. I needed some quick wins to make me feel back in control. Clean laundry and dishes, clear surfaces, and a to-do lists with lots and lots of checks were just what I needed!
Even after this take charge approach, I still felt down, so I decided to break it down so I could turn it around. Here’s what I figured out: I needed to identify what I was feeling and sort out which of those were rational and irrational and then figure out how to move forward. Of course, I whipped out my journal because writing things down always help me process them. I’m no therapist, but here’s my list of feelings:
Next I wrote down part a Bible verse that most of us know “All things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28) I knew this intellectually, but emotionally it was hard to accept! You’ve all heard the first part of this famous quote, “When one door closes another opens;” but I had never heard the second half which is really profound,”but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Alexander Graham Bell, you were wise! Thinking about this, led me to write three words that gave me some hope:
Reflect - why did I choose to join Clever Container? What did I like about it? What didn’t I like? What would I do differently if I could? If it could have continued, what would my success have looked like? What were the costs to this opportunity - financial, time, etc? What were the benefits of this opportunity? What could have gone better and worse?
Reevaluate - what are my true goals? What are my priorities and how do my goals align with those? What am I missing that is necessary for me to meet those goals? Where can I get those missing pieces?
Refocus - what can I let go of that is hindering progress? what is my plan to actually do the things that will get me where I want to be? What do I need to add or subtract from my life?
So far my reflection, re-evaluation and refocusing efforts have gotten me here: Clever Container was fun and lined up with my desire to help others achieve their goals, but I’m fortunate to have my blog where I can still share my love of organization and productivity. Maybe this is the perfect time to refocus on the blog and other avenues to help people get organized and stay productive. I get to choose how I will spend the time I otherwise would have spent on Clever Container - maybe I’ll start practicing piano more, start a new hobby or side hustle, exercise or read more (or find a new Netflix show to get into, go to bed earlier, enjoy more bubble baths). Who knows - the possibilities are exciting!
I know this disappointment is minor compared to many things others are dealing with like loss of jobs that is a primary source of income, broken relationships, sickness, or loss of a loved one. I am aware that my direct sales business closing up shop doesn’t even come close to the disappointment and emotions related to these more serious events, but I do think that the same exercise may apply to help identify what we are feeling and why and then to give it the attention it deserves through reflection, looking beyond it with re-evaluation and starting anew with refocus. The highs in life wouldn’t seem so high without the lows, so let’s choose to let our lows teach us and bring us up!
I'm still accepting Clever Container orders through December 15, 2018.
Sometimes I get annoyed. OK, maybe it's more than sometimes... I realized this when my kids began asking me daily, "Did anyone annoy you today, Mom?" Yuck! I really don't like it when my kids make my true self so apparent to me. They are reflecting what I'm presenting to the world.
When I'm asked the common, get-to-know-you, ice-breaker question., "What’s your biggest pet peeve?", my quick answer is - incompetence! The definition of incompetence is the inability to do something successfully; ineptitude. The simple inability to do something doesn’t bother me, it’s when the individual either has been in a position to learn how to do the task and still can’t do it, the individual pretends they know how to do something that they really can’t, OR the worst is when someone makes a mistake and doesn't own up to it and apologize! I began to expect incompetence, and the more I expected it, the more I saw it all around me.
"How could I change my attitude and my pet peeve?"
A few months ago, I had what many would describe as a very frustrating experience at a doctor's office, but instead of being angry and spewing the story of incompetence to anyone who would listen, I felt calm and had no negative feelings toward the person who made the mistake. I looked back and wondered, had I really grown that much as a person that I could overlook the issue, or was there some other reason? I rehashed the events in my mind....
I had the forethought to call our regular pharmacy (which was near our home, a 30 minute drive from the doctor's office) from the clinic's parking lot to make sure they had the medicine in stock. It's a good thing I called, because they did not have it, and they referred us to another pharmacy in their chain near our doctor's office. We drove there and traipsed through the store to the back where the pharmacy counter was and stood in line only to be told that they didn't have the medication either. They referred us to yet another pharmacy where we repeated the process and heard from that pharmacist, "Sorry, none here." By this time I was beginning to wonder what was going on that no pharmacy in town had this not-very-exotic medication.
I called the pharmacy at the clinic where our doctor's office was located (why didn't I just go there in the first place, you ask? Well, I was certainly asking myself the same question at this point!) They said they had it! My son was still in a lot of pain as we retraced our steps back to where we started from. As soon as I showed the pharmacist that piece of paper, she immediately knew what the issue was. The nurse practitioner had checked the box on the prescription pad that said NO substitutions allowed, so since all of pharmacies stocked only the generic, they couldn't fill the prescription as it was written.
We went upstairs to the doctor's office, and I asked to see the nurse practitioner to get a new prescription. After just a few minutes she raced out from the back waving the new prescription. She immediately said she was so sorry that she'd made the mistake and admitted that she didn't often write physical prescriptions any more and had simply checked the wrong box. She empathized with me and my son saying she could only imagine what we'd gone through trying to get the medicine to make him feel better and she was so sorry she'd caused him extra time in pain. I found myself assuring HER that it was OK and telling HER not to worry.
We quickly got the prescription filled and immediately gave him a dose. As we drove home and he finally fell asleep after getting some relief, I realized that I didn't get angry or label the nurse practitioner as incompetent because she had taken her time and treated us with kindness during our appointment, then when presented with her mistake, she quickly apologized, took responsibility, empathized, did what was necessary to correct the situation, and apologized again. I would recommend this nurse practitioner in a heartbeat because of how she handled the situation.
"Expect the best until proven wrong."
I’m choosing to change my pet peeve, so you’re going to have to REALLY mess up before I label you incompetent from now on! You may wonder what re-framing how I look at incompetence has to do with a life in order - to me it has everything to do with it! Before I can improve myself, become more efficient and focused on my priorities, I have to quit wasting my energy fretting about or ruminating on things I can't control, and I must change my mindset to focus less on the negative. I now try to live by the motto, “expect the best until proven wrong.”
Here's my list and what it taught me:
I realized that I needed more sleep. I sometimes have trouble sleeping, so I needed to make it a priority. I decided to set a bedtime, get a new memory foam pillow, and change my bedtime routine so I wasn't working or on a screen right before bed. Since then, my sleep has definitely improved! I love my memory foam pillow, and I’ve also started using a meditation app, some essential oils at bedtime, and I even gave a sleep mask a try!
Visible clutter makes me anxious, so I needed to look at clutter clearing as self-care. I committed to keep my kitchen clean for the whole upcoming week and make note of how I felt as a result. Laundry has always been my nemesis, so just keeping it out of sight was what I promised myself for the following week. I've since started a laundry experiment which I wrote about a few weeks ago - it's working! Clutter is a constant battle, but one thing that always helps is having less stuff! For the past few months, I've been slowly and steadily purging my house, room by room,
My new curtains were up and I loved how they looked.
I'd invested a lot of time making a decision about new curtains, and I was relieved that I liked them. (I'd had the previous ones for about 14 years, so I knew it was a big commitment!) I usually beat myself up about how long it took me to make a decision and how much effort I put into analyzing my options. This time, I felt proud of the research and bargain shopping I had done. Since then I’ve tried to spend my analysis efforts on big and important things, but with smaller decisions, as soon as my criteria are met, I go with it!
I've always been labelled an extrovert, but with even just a little alone time that morning, I was energized. This showed me that maybe I am similar to my introvert husband -- I need to be alone on a regular basis so I don't get drained. I decided on some regular alone time the following week while the kids were at soccer practice. It was only about an hour two times that week, but just knowing it was scheduled helped. I now spend time at the library about every other Saturday and have given myself permission to miss the occasional kid’s sports practice for some time at home alone.
I was given a compliment from my husband.
After reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I had no doubt that my love language was words of affirmation. Hearing a compliment from anyone boosts my mood, but when it comes from my husband, it means so much more. I had a lasting smile on my face after hearing that compliment, but I had to figure out how to feel love in ways other than just words, so I decided to consciously look for other ways I was loved besides just in words in the upcoming week. Since then, I have noticed love and kindness being shown to me in other ways like having my back in a tense situation, doing me a favor, asking my opinion, giving me a gift, or giving me a hug. Turns out I’m pretty blessed by all the people in my life!
I wasn't running late.
Time and I haven't always gotten along...in fact I wrote about when I first started my blog because it's such an issue for me! That glorious morning, I had plenty of time - like EXTRA time - and I loved how it felt! I think part of the reason it happened that day was because my kids were well behaved and they were actually ready early as well. Because moms don't have the luxury of just getting themselves out the door on time, I realized that my focus should really be having the kids be ready at least 10 minutes before I wanted to walk out. I also decided to plan to leave the house a full 15 minutes before I would need to. This would give me a cushion for traffic and last minute emergencies - AND it may make me early to my destination, which always makes me feel kind of like a rock star! I’ve definitely improved overall, but the “I can squeeze one more thing in and not be late” fallacy trips me up more often than I’d like! Making lists the night before helps me stay on track.
I normally checked email and news first thing in the morning, and usually there was something negative in the headlines or something stressful in my inbox. That morning, I didn't let my device control me. I realized I didn't feel as down during the morning when I wasn't consumed by negative thoughts. New plan - no news til lunch time and no email until I've at least taken a shower! The only problem is sometimes I feel that I’m not keeping up on current events as much as I should. It’s a tough balance between being informed and staying positive!
I sent a message to a friend and received a reply.
I sent a Facebook message to a friend because they were on my mind, and they messaged me right back. Having that connection made me smile. I decided that everyday, I'm going to reach out to at least one friend- it could be in person, on the phone or via a message on Facebook, Snapchat, etc. I’ve been doing this faithfully, and I love this so much! It’s fun to let my friends know they are on my mind and even better to hear back from them!
I spent time doing my hair, makeup and picked out a cute outfit.
That morning, I had the time (and took the time) to fix myself up a bit. It made me feel confident, put together, and in control. I realized that too often, I sported the "I didn't have time nor do I care" look, especially during the work week. I vowed to put on a little makeup and make an effort with my hair every morning. Time was my biggest barrier, so I tried washing my hair at night and using dry shampoo every other day. I also planned to do what I knew worked for me - picking out my outfit the night before. Last week's blog post explored this phenomenon in a little more detail - how we look impacts how we feel. I still enjoy a good no makeup (or shower) day, but that’s more of the exception than the rule these days.
Because I had extra time and some of that extra time was spent alone, I read a book - for fun! I know that reading has many positive effects, and I wanted to read more. I decided to schedule in reading time into my day. My oldest son and husband read together nightly after the youngest goes to bed. This was the perfect time for me to read, and all I'd be sacrificing was some social media time! I have been reading a lot more recently, I think partly because I track what I read in Goodreads. I have also started reading right before bed which helps with my sleep as well.
Why is it though, that I spent extra time on my appearance that day? It was a special occasion and by fixing my hair and makeup, I felt pampered. I already felt excited about my birthday (remember I was still in my early 20's when birthdays were a little more fun than they are in your late 30's!) so I had extra energy to spend on myself. I also knew that I'd likely be getting more attention than usual that day and wanted to look my best to make a good impression.
"It's unfortunate that judgments about our character can form in such a short amount of time, but because we know this is true, we can use that knowledge and create the impression about ourselves that we want to portray."
We have to be careful not to cross that very faint line between caring about how we look to create the impression that communicates our authentic self to the world and focusing on appearance to our own detriment, putting others' opinions in front of our own values. If fixing up is something that boosts your mood and confidence and helps you get some respect along the way, there is NOTHING wrong with it (and it doesn't even have to be your birthday!)
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Nudelman, Mike, and Drake Baer. “8 Things People Decide within Seconds of Meeting You.” Business Insider, 15 July 2015, www.businessinsider.com/8-things-people-decide-within-seconds-of-meeting-you-2015-7.
Adamns, Rebecca. “How Lipstick (Yes, Lipstick) Can Instantly Make Your Day Better.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Feb. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/psychological-benefits-of-lipstick_n_4722612.html.
Throughout the day, different people and experiences pop into my head. I usually just let it pass and do nothing about it, but occasionally, I take the time to shoot that person a text or an email letting them know I was thinking of them and why. Most of the time I get a kind response of appreciation, and very often I get the response, "I needed that today." You don't have to be physically with a person to spread some kindness!
One day while I was eating lunch out, I had a young server who had several tattoos. I commented on one that was visible just by saying I liked it and asked what made him choose it. His whole demeanor changed. I think he was surprised to be asked (maybe me being in a business suit on my lunch hour asking about his tattoo caught him off guard) but he opened up and told me why he got the tattoo, what it meant to him, and showed me another one and shared a personal story about it. After this experience I've started asking others who have visible tattoos about them. I don't have tattoos myself, but figure if someone cares enough about something to have it tattooed, it may be something they'd like to share and it may make them happy to do so. Just from saying, "I like your tattoo, what does it mean?" I've heard about the impact of parents who have passed on, faith journeys, and just some funny stories.
"Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood."
Since hearing Achor speak, I started a new dinnertime routine with my family. Each night we go around the table taking turns saying three specific things we were grateful for that day. They can be as small as, "I'm grateful for these great hamburgers that Dad grilled" or "I'm grateful for going on a walk in the sunshine today." The research shows that after 21 days of recording specific gratitude, our brains actually start perceiving the world differently because we are looking for things to be grateful for, so those things are at the forefront and the negatives - which still exist - are in the background. I'm eager to look back after we've done this for a few weeks at what made us feel gratitude and notice our happiness increasing! Once we become happier, we improve in many ways - health, productivity and our influence on others all benefit. Achor did a popular TED talk you may want to check out called "The Happy Secret to Better Work." I've heard many productivity experts talk about gratitude journals and have had a hard time keeping one for myself, but adding my family in the mix has helped me make this a part of my day that I look forward to!
I'm hoping to instill the habits of gratitude and kindness in my kids. I often just repeat the word, "kindness" to them when I hear them arguing. If their arguing gets out of hand, we have a little mantra they have to repeat while looking at each other, "you're my brother, and I love you." (and then I make them hug, or sometimes kiss depending on how loud and ugly the arguing was!) This exercise usually makes them laugh but I hope just by saying the words out loud will remind them to be kind to one another.
- say the nice things you think out loud (or in an email or a text)
- when you feel down or stressed, look for ways to improve someone else's mood
- record your gratitude in the small, positive things that happen in your day
Sometimes we may wonder if keeping up with all of the traditions is worth it. There is a difference between true traditions - things we do to create meaning that can be passed down from generation to generation - and just keeping up appearances. In this digital age full of social networks, posting what we decide is the ideal picture of our lives is an easy trap to fall into, and if this is the reason you keep up with a tradition then, NO, it's not worth it. But if creating and maintaining traditions brings joy to you and your family or provides precious memories and opportunities for your children to carry them with them into adulthood - then YES, keep it up!
There are so many reasons I think traditions are powerful and allow us creative opportunities to show our love to our past and to our future:
We have hosted a kids' Halloween costume party since our oldest was about 3 years old. I have pictures of both of my kids and their friends and their friends parents in all sorts of fun costumes. We often talk about things like "that time we stuck our hands into a bucket with cold spaghetti and thought it was guts!"
Traditions help us mark the passage of time
From the time I started school, my mom took a first day of school picture in front of the refrigerator. She could tell how much we'd grown by how close we were to the line between the fridge and the freezer. She has a first and a last day of school picture of my brother and me for every school year. When my kids started school, I did the same thing, but instead of the refrigerator, I use the back door. It's fun to see how much the kids have grown each year.
Traditions simplify decisions
What are we going to do for the holidays? That's not a question you have to ask yourself if you have a tradition. At our house, we have an annual Labor Day party on the Sunday before Labor Day. It's always in the backyard, we always grill, we always ask guests to bring a dish to share and their own lawnchairs, we always have glow sticks, we always have a campfire, and we always have smores. There are so many fewer decisions when you have a tradition.
There are many competing traditions around Christmas and Easter. My family chooses to participate in both the fun and the religious traditions (ex. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and the story of Christ's birth, death and resurrection.) We use traditions to communicate meaning. One of those traditions is one that we did just this morning, resurrection rolls. Every Easter morning, we make these rolls and talk about the Biblical meaning of Easter. Today, my kids helped explain the meaning in this video
As a child, every Christmas morning was spent at home. After stockings and before gifts, we would read the story of Jesus' birth from the book of Luke chapter 2. When I got married, we began spending Christmas mornings at our new home and our kids have always had Christmas morning at their home. Each year, we read from Luke chapter 2 after stockings and before gifts. We also read the same passage when we go to my parents house before opening gifts. My kids know that this is what I did as a kid, and I expect this is one tradition that they will carry on.
Traditions allow our families to be unique
One of my favorite traditions that I believe is pretty unique to our family is that we eat Christmas breakfast at a truck stop each year. This started the first year my husband and I lived in our current house. There was a truck stop in town, and it was the only thing open on Christmas morning so that's where we ate. It was good, and the waitress was so nice that we left her a big tip. After we left we said, "Let's make this a tradition." Well, a few weeks later, that truck stop burnt down....we didn't let that stop us, we just found a different truck stop. We've done this ever since. There have been different truck stops, and we've turned down Christmas meal invitations to keep up our tradition. It's been neat to see the kids get excited about leaving the waitress a nice tip!
We made up a really silly and fun tradition last Cinco de Mayo. The kids wanted to see the Tron remake and it just worked out that we had some time on May 5. My oldest and I stopped by the store and picked up some chips, salsa, and queso. We went home and announced the new Cinco de Mayo tradition was eating our snacks and watching Tron. The kids loved the movie and just the other day, they mentioned how we'll watch it again on Cinco de Mayo this year!
- 1 can crescent rolls
- 8 large marshmellows
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 Tbps (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
- Preheat oven as directed on crescent roll package
- Microwave butter (or margarine) in a microwave safe bowl in increments of 10 seconds until completely melted
- Mix sugar and cinnamon in separate bowl
- Open and separate crescent rolls, place on ungreased cookie sheet (these represent the tomb)
- Coat a marshmellow (represents Jesus' body) in melted butter (represents oil) and then roll in cinnamon sugar mixture (represents spices)
- Place marshmellow on a crescent roll
- Roll the crescent roll around the marshmellow and make sure there are no holes (represents Jesus' body being placed in the tomb and sealed)
- Repeat with all marshmellows
- Bake as directed on the crescent roll package
- Cut open to reveal an empty center (represents the empty tomb)
1. Motivation - What do I want to be known for?
2. Mentors - Whom can I learn from?
3. Milestones - What are three subprojects I can complete?
4. Monitor - What positive things are happening that I can acknowledge?
5. Modify - What one change can I make to keep moving forward?
This is heavy stuff! Thankfully, there were more exercises in the book to help me work through all of this. One of the activities that helped me the most was figuring out how I spent my time. As I've mentioned before, time is one of my weaknesses, so I needed to figure out if I was proving what I wanted to be known for by how I was spending my time.
- Was I being present with my kids?
- How much time was I working on staying "on top of things" at home and at work?
- How often was I actually helping someone else achieve a goal?
The real difference maker was when I answered the next couple of questions in the exercise. The first was: "What do I wish were different?" You may have heard the saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." Insane may be a bit of an overstatement, but if I want things to be different, I'm going to have to change. I think we could all make a long list of what we'd like to be different in our lives, but what are we doing to make that happen? If you're like me, I've gotten to this point before - I know what I want things to be like and then make a giant plan of all the things I'm going to change to make it happen. And then I fail because that amount of change all at once is overwhelming.
That's why the second question this section asked was really valuable to me: "Do I really need to make changes now? Should and can I wait?" Yes, I definitely need to make some changes, but which of them are critical or should be done first? It takes time to form new habits - longer than you'd think. Gretchen Rubin, author of many books including Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, wrote about this in her blog post, "Stop Expecting to Change Your Habit in 21 Days." Give yourself time and space to make a change and really master it before adding more change.
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."
I will add some more changes soon - once the family time on weeknights is a real habit. In the meantime, I'm trying to keep my short list of what I want to be known for front of mind as I make decisions or even speak - is what I'm about to do or say going to cause others to "know me" for being kind or helping them achieve their goals; is how I'm choosing to spend my time helping me stay on top of my responsibilities? If the answer is no, I need to rethink my actions!
How about you - have you thought about what you want to be known for and what that really means in your daily life? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. If Get Momentum sounds like a book you'd like to read, you can earn entries for the giveaway by visiting the Facebook page and/or simply like and comment on this post below before Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 9 p.m. to get an entry!
Womack, Jason W., and Jodi Womack. Get Momentum: How to Start When You're Stuck. Wiley, 2016.
Rubin, Gretchen. “Stop Expecting to Change Your Habit in 21 Days.” Gretchen Rubin, 16 Oct. 2009, Stop Expecting to Change Your Habit in 21 Days.
- Don't expect more from myself than I expect of others.
- Set boundaries, and stick to them.
Today, I want to elaborate on the first point. I had an AHA! moment when I talked to my coach about all I was dealing with. She repeated everything I had listed on my responsibility list and asked me if I would expect someone else to handle all of those things in the manner I had explained that I wanted them done. I immediately said, "No." When she said if that was true, then I couldn't expect that of myself, I felt kind of stupid. I mean, that made a lot of intellectual sense, and even though I wanted to insert a "but" and follow it some logical reasoning - I couldn't. She was right, just plain right.
Realizing, and then internalizing that lower self-expectation didn't mean I wasn't good at my job, good at being a mom or a wife or a friend or a homemaker or any of the other roles I was in - it was FREEING! I could be a "regular person" and didn't have to keep up the superwoman facade. I deserved the same respect and grace that I gave to others, and I was really the only one who could give that to myself. As easy as it is to complain about how others treat us or what they expect of us - as I've often told my kids, "you're in charge of you." I needed to realize that applied to me as well!
"Done is better than perfect."
- Dishes - as long as they don't stink and there isn't an ant infestation, I choose family time over dishes. We use a lot more paper plates and plastic silverware than we used to. I made a set of family coasters (tutorial here) to help limit the number of glasses in our house. I'm ok with running the dishwasher when it's not completely full, and I taught the kids how to empty the dishwasher.
- Clutter - during the work/school week, I don't freak out about clutter anymore. We clean up on the weekends, and since I just decided to be ok with that, life during the week is actually less stressful. I do prefer a clutter-free house and have developed a few easy strategies to manage it. I have a paper inbox for all paper that comes into our house - this is the #1 best thing I ever did! We have extra toy bins that are hidden away under the stairs, so as long as toys are in that general vicinity - well, out of sight, out of mind. I gave up on shoes being put away (honestly, I was the main culprit!) Instead, we have a rug near the door, and as long as the mountain of shoes stays on the rug, I'm happy with that.
- Laundry - I'd love to say that I did laundry on a very nice schedule or folded and put away everything as soon as it came out of the dryer, but I'm going to be honest - I don't! To lower my own expectations, I decided not to worry about doing laundry during the week unless it was absolutely necessary. I bought enough undergarments for the whole family so that we have at least enough for about 10 days just in case we miss a laundry day! A few laundry "hacks" I've implemented are: I bought a bin for PJs that I'm going to re-wear, so instead of throwing them on the floor, I throw them in a bin on a shelf in my closet. I DO re-wear pajamas for a few days, and I also re-wear pants and jackets several times. I usually wash a shirt after one wearing, but hey, if it passes the sniff test... I also installed a hook in my bathroom so if I don't feel like hanging work clothes up or putting them in the hamper when I get home (which I worked hard to develop a habit of doing), at least they aren't on the floor. We (I say we because my husband is just as good, probably better, at laundry than I am ) no longer put the kids' clean clothes away - we fold them and put them on the stairs, and they have to "do the stairs" daily. Laundry is still one of the most difficult parts of keeping up my household. I'm going to do a whole post soon on this topic!
- Flowers/Garden - we used to plant a garden every year, and though I love fresh green beans and zucchini, I don't like weeding, and the garden would inevitably turn into either a bed of weeds or a big competition about who did more work in the garden. Last year, we decided it wasn't worth it and didn't even plant one. I planted one zucchini plant, and we just bought fresh veggies from the grocery store or roadside stands. When I'm retired, I think a garden will be fun, but until I have more time during daylight hours, I don't think it's realistic for me! I also finally accepted that I'm never going to be great at keeping flowers alive. There are a few types that I can handle, so instead of browsing in the lawn and garden section and trying new things every year, I stick to my wave petunias, and a few begonias and some others that I don't even know the names of. If something I plant in a pot dies, I just dump it out and put the pot in the garage for the season. No one is driving by my house saying, "where's her potted plant?"
- Schedule - I'm still learning how to better estimate how long things take - time is hard for me! I now make myself OVERestimate how long things take so I don't overbook myself. I'm done with the days of putting 20 things on my to do list only to get through half. Instead, I'm making my to do list based on how many hours are in the day, how many meetings or appointments I have, and how long the really important things are going to take. I'm trying to set more realistic timelines for tasks and projects. I always ask others, "what do you think is a feasible timeline to have this completed?" yet for myself I would set these crazy aggressive timelines. My people-pleasing nature makes it hard for me to be realistic sometimes. I'm learning that I'd rather overestimate how long it takes and get it done early rather than underestimate and either kill myself to get it done or disappoint when it's impossible to complete on time.
- Parenting/Family Time - I was fortunate to have amazing parents, and I want to be the same for my kids. I choose not to spend as much time on other things so I can spend more time with my family (and be less stressed doing it!) Deciding on my family as a priority over a clean house or a packed schedule doesn't mean that I don't get to have my own interests, hobbies, and friends or that I don't get to spend some time alone. I think by having outside interests, it shows kids what being a well-rounded adult is like. Even so, I feel pretty strongly that the the old adage about quality over quantity time is only partly true. I guess this is where I've lowered my own expectations - I focus on quantity and don't worry so much about quality. Being home nightly for dinner and bedtime, spending some parts of weekends at home all together, and attending school and sporting events - those are quantity goals. The quality part comes in the consistency and just "happens." It's impossible to create quality without some quantity. We may eat a speed dinner before cub scouts; I might have to sing a lightening fast song and say only a short prayer before lights out because of an evening commitment; or I might fall asleep on the couch while the kids watch a movie in the same room - but I was there, and it's still communicating that being WITH the family is important to me - because it is. Even though I'd love to, I don't have to be the PTA president to be involved at their school, I don't have to give them expensive gifts to show them what they mean to me - I can simply choose them, have routines and traditions in our home, listen, be present, and show affection. I'm certainly not perfect, but I'm learning the balance ...I may say "I love you" too much, but I'll risk that!
Keeping expectations for myself at bay is a constant struggle, but it's a struggle worth having. Feeling accomplished and satisfied with my less-than-perfect life is so worth it! Do you agree that lowering self-expectation is a good idea, a way to survive and thrive in this fast paced world we live in? Or do you disagree and feel that we should expect more of ourselves? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!