Start somewhere. This is probably the best advice I ever have to offer, and it seems like the best place to “get back on the horse” with the blog.
I know I’m not alone as a person who gets overwhelmed by all the things that end up on my to-do list. Sometimes that’s a self-inflicted wound because I take on too much. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle against perfectionism and depression.
When things feel too big to even be possible, I just start somewhere. There’s the old saying that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, or the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Pick your favorite metaphor, and just start small.
The elephant I’m probably struggling with the most right now is decluttering, so I’ve been applying the “start somewhere” motto to it. It’s not fast work for me, but every time I walk into a mess, I just pick a spot and start working from there. If that even feels too big, I set a timer for 15 minutes and give myself permission to take a break if I work through the timer.
Whatever elephant you’re trying to eat, I have no shortcuts for the actual work. But I do know that the only way to tackle it is to start somewhere and just work through each step as it comes. I know that makes it sound very simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. Sometimes simple is ridiculously hard, and that’s okay. Most of the time the hardest part of the work is just getting started.
Today will not go as perfectly planned. In fact, it’s already off the rails. Do your best. Don’t quit. Good is good enough.
I am horrible with schedules. Being on time is ridiculously hard for me (and harder for the rest of my family, so you can imagine getting out the door with our crew is LOADS of fun), which everyone who knows me well has experienced. I wish I could be one of those people who could shrug it off, but I also feel it deeply like a moral failure. (It’s also SUPER fun to be a perfectionist but not also a Type A organized person…)
When I’m being an organized person and using my daily planner, I rough out the time allotment for each task in half hour increments, and I shoot for that as I work through the day. BUT, I have yet to ever complete a perfectly planned day perfectly. It never happens. It probably never will happen. BUT, it doesn’t stop me from trying.
I know the definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome, so I tweak my approach once in a while. I’m not completely crazy – just a little nuts most of the time…
No matter how hard I try, something is going to derail my perfect planner day.
I’m generally resilient enough to adapt and still get the big things done (see last week’s post about prioritizing tasks), but one of the worst perfectionist personality traits is the desire to just chuck it all if it can’t be done perfectly. I have those days once in a while, and I have to make myself finish the day. It’s usually not pretty. I probably act more childish than my child about it.
Most of the time, a quick gut check is enough to remind me what’s important, and I just roll with it. Wherever you go, there you are. So if the derailed perfect plan train takes me hallway around the world, that’s fine: I’ll see new sights. I have been described more than once as “unflappable.”
Some days, I am flappable. I need to be reminded that not quitting may be the best I can do, and that’s okay. I just need to do the best I can in that moment, even if it’s not the best I could have done in other circumstances. I keep trying to work my way to being perfect, but I can’t be. The truth is, without grace, my whole life is a runaway train, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.
That’s a tough pill for a perfectionist to swallow, but it’s the grace that Jesus taught over and over.
“But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42
“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’” Matthew 11:28-30
I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard or pay attention to the details – God wants us to offer our best when we work – but I am saying sometimes we get wrapped up in the wrong details. I can get honed in on a particular set of circumstances and miss the big picture.
In the next few weeks leading up to school start dates (or not starting, or partial weeks, or whatever the plan is today), we’re all going to need grace to make it work. Some of us may need a lot of help to make it work. My teacher and school administrator friends are going to need so, so, so much prayer from us and grace from their classroom parents just to stay sane. We’re all going to need resiliency and (say it with me this time) grace to make it through the semester when the only constant is change.
I’ll be telling myself over and over to step back and find the one thing worth being concerned about and going hard after that. Here’s a secret: it’s always going to be loving God and loving people. That’s always the big picture, and it never changes. Let’s hang on to that while our perfect schedule trains ride off the rails into new territory. I bet the scenery will be worth it.
Everything can’t happen at once; it’s all a process, a one-step-at-a-time journey.
My brain is terrible at processing and accepting the fact that I can really only do one thing at a time. At any moment, if you peeked into my brain and asked what it was thinking about, the answer is probably, “Everything.” What do I want to write about? Everything. What do I want to paint? All the things. What task should I start to declutter and organize the house? Everything again. What project should I finish next for work? So. Many. Things. When do I want to do all these things? Right now. All of it. Now.
Did I say do it all right now yet? Because that what my brain thinks is possible if you ask it.
I have finally gotten proof copies of my book and read through it on paper one last time for a final edit, and it’s all ready to go for an official launch date of August 1. The hardest part of writing the book and getting it ready for publication was making myself sit down and work methodically. I spent probably a year outlining and researching, another two years after that writing the first half, one more year just getting the rough draft done already, and then it took me over a year to edit and format. It sounds like a labor of love that took time to come together, and there’s some small truth to that.
Mostly, though, my brain has the attention span of a fruit fly when it comes to finishing big things. I’ll get excited and dive into the deep end of learning everything I can about the new thing, and then, BOOM: shiny spot on the wall.
Time to learn all about that new shiny spot. But I still want to publish that first shiny thing and paint the shiny squirrel, and don’t forget about learning to play that instrument and organizing the sock drawer.
I understand that the shiny squirrel problem is common to writers/creatives, and I understand why if their brains are wired like mine. I love to tell stories in my writing and art, and everything around me has a story begging to be told. It’s hard to focus on just one at a time when I can hear so many whispering to me.
I also know plenty of non-writers who suffer from the shiny chicken affliction, and I understand them, too, if their brains are anything like mine. You see the possibilities of what could be done, and maybe you see most of the steps to make it happen. None of them are too hard for you to handle, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t tackle that project.
Unless you also have to operate in the real world, as most of us do…
We have multiple claims to our time even when we’re not running on a tight schedule. If you have family, friends, pets, a home, a job, a church, a hobby or two (or ten…), an illness to manage, or any other aspect of operating as a grownup, then you have competing demands on your time and energy.
And you have limits to your time and energy. It’s the ugly truth of humanity that we are limited creatures. Maybe in heaven we can do everything at once, but this side of the pearly gates, we have to manage with a linear time structure and limited energy resources. We have to prioritize and choose what gets those limited resources.
The frustrating part of that is whatever we don’t choose will suffer, or at the very least remain on hold until we have the time to focus on it. What do you do when you feel like the choice comes down to career or purpose or family? How do you choose when they’re all valuable?
This part is the silver lining to me. In making decisions about my priorities, I have to choose so carefully that I must limit my field of vision to just the most important things for that span of time. If I made the decision that those things were the most important tasks, it gives my shiny spot/squirrel/chicken finder permission to put on some blinders for a while so I can see just what’s in front of me. Prioritizing gets me over the hurdle of feeling like everything has to happen all at once.
Prioritizing makes me think harder about what my real values are and whether what I’m planning to work on or spend time doing reflects those values. I can say I value my daughter, but if I never spent time with her, my actions would demonstrate otherwise. (Sounds a lot like James 2:14-18…) Choosing my tasks with this big picture view ensures that I am intentionally living within my faith and moral code. It also limits my focus to a few big tasks each day so that I work with all my effort rather than in random spurts.
One step at a time isn’t all bad.
I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to completely ignore shiny spots on the wall, and it’s certainly inevitable that a shiny squirrel or two will run past the blinders. It’s not chicken-proof, but my mental tool to get back on task is to allow the thought to pop in my head for a second. Even if it’s ridiculous, I write it in an idea journal (or make a note on my phone if the journal isn’t handy) to save it for later. When I have time to take the blinders off, I can always go back and look at the shiny chicken later. The idea journal gives my brain permission to see a shiny spot, record it, and then get back on task quickly. I can let the new idea go for a while because I know it’s safe in the journal.
What mental tricks or tools do you use to stay on task?
I stumbled upon a celebrity social media post about doing the #AmplifyMelanatedVoicesChallenge this week. (I saw it on Glennon Doyle’s Facebook page, and it was created by @blackandembodied and @jessicawilson.msrd) The idea is that you mute your own voice and amplify the voices of black women. I can think of no better way to process what’s happening in the nation right now. Writers write to understand the world, and I will journal like crazy, but what I should share publicly is something that could actually make a difference rather than add more words to the cacophony of the moment.
I think the best place for me to start is to amplify the women in my life who have helped me, who nurture me with their talents or acceptance or friendship on a daily basis. Monday is usually when I write about a mental health mindset tool, so today is all about a friend whose life work is the mental health of others.
Danna Perdue-Melton is one of the kindest, funniest, and smartest women I know. I love every minute we get to spend together. She’s also a licensed counselor who works with children, adolescents, and adults with issues related to anxiety, depression, toxic stress, trauma and PTSD.
You can find information about Danna’s counseling services here:
You can also follow her on Instagram @dannamp or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/danna.perduemelton) for daily encouragement. I love her posts, and she encourages me every day through them. Her friendship is a gift I treasure, and her counseling work and encouragement is a treasure for everyone.
See the mountain once a day; then focus on the trail in front of you.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to overwhelm myself when I get into a big project. I make two equal, yet differing mistakes. First, I think too hard about the end result and plotting the perfect course that I often fail to take the first steps needed to make it to the top of the mountain. Then, once I finally get to work, I plot a timeline/schedule for my perfect course, but it’s a breakneck pace that’s only possible if I can work through the schedule perfectly every day without interruptions. Brilliant, right?
Many moons ago I suckered my best friend into training for a triathlon with me. We worked really hard, and we planned a trail run/walk as a fun training day. We were very smart and packed a fabulous picnic lunch, which we put in a cooler in one of our cars at the top of the mountain trail we were going to tackle. We drove in the other car down to the trailhead to begin. We had even studied the trail maps for the park and picked the one that was closest to our distance goal. Brilliant, right?
The trail was beautiful and shady enough that we didn’t feel like dying in the Alabama heat and humidity, and we were making great time, maybe even running ahead of schedule based on our goal pace. And then we came to the end of the marked trail we had planned to follow. There was no parking lot with our parked lunch cooler car. Instead, there was more mountain to hike and a sign pointing to another trail that would take us to the lunch cooler car. And we had no idea how long the new trail would be because we thought we had already accounted for that distance. Brilliant, right?
We were somewhere between trailheads with no plan because our perfect lunch plan had just been obliterated by this sign and the new colored trail marks it told us to follow. We had to decide if it was better to keep going up, or turn around and go back to where we started. We took a look up the mountain, and we decided to go for it. If we had focused on the fact that the map was weirdly drawn and had delayed our lunch by at least another two miles uphill, that mountain would have taken forever to hike because our attitude would have made things miserable. We focused on the trail markers and where we were headed, and those extra miles weren’t so bad.
Long story, short: It’s easy to get discouraged when you see how much mountain you still have to climb to get to the top, no matter how brilliant your plan was to begin with. By concentrating on the next step that’s directly in front of you, you’ll be able to feel less pressure from the enormity of the overall goal and focus on the task at hand. You still need to see the big picture, but it doesn’t need to hang over you like an oppressive shadow. Let it be motivation to keep moving and a reminder of why you’re taking this particular trail. Don’t let it scare you into never leaving the parking lot.
Additional moral to the story: sometimes you have to change plans mid-trail, or maybe you have to find the next trail when the one you just finished didn’t get you all the way to the endpoint you wanted. That’s not failure. That’s being resilient and adapting to the situation on the ground. That’s a solid marker of mental health, and it’s a good thing.
What mountain are you planning to climb? What does the trail look like that puts you on a path to accomplishing that goal? How can you narrow your focus to just that trail in front of you?
I am a naturally empathetic person. It’s one of my INFJ personality type superpowers. Empathy makes me a great listener, a good friend, a compassionate leader, a solid writer, a generous giver…
But it’s also my kryptonite. I internalize the mood of the space I’m in, the people I’m around, the news I hear and read. All of it goes straight to my heart. When I’m not my healthiest spiritually and/or mentally, I have to create buffers between my soul and the ”real world,” or I can’t watch the news without crying over how broken the world is – how the pandemic is affecting the entire world – how heavy the losses are for families affected by the crime and poverty being reported – how divisive and angry our politics are – how even the good news stories are often colored with shades of loss or hardship, even if it’s a story about a loss restored.
It’s all so oppressive that joy, even the deep and abiding joy of living in Christ, is hard to muster. I tend to retreat, to build so many buffers that I can hide in comfort food and craft projects. Sometimes I volunteer too much as a way to compensate and keep my brain too busy with stuff to do to be able to focus on how I feel. It’s a really dumb way to handle all the feels, but it typically happens on such a subconscious level that I don’t realize it until I’ve taken on too much work to handle and there are abandoned crochet projects all over the house (and the house is a wreck).
As I grow, I get better at spotting the cycle. I’m certainly better at recognizing the moments when I’m feeling all the feelings, and even knowing when they’re not mine.
But the letting go part, that’s not my strong suit.
I’m great at planning my way out of mess and thinking I can generate just the right to-do list that will fix all my perceived problems. Overweight and out of shape? Yes, but if I follow this diet plan and this exercise regimen EXACTLY, then I’ll be at my goal weight and peak physical conditioning in less than a year. Behind on my quest to be a “real author?” Absolutely, but if I write this many minutes per day on each writing project, and I send out this many book proposals in the next two weeks, THEN I’ll be on my way.
It’s all malarkey. Not that I shouldn’t make plans and set goals, but I am still learning the lesson that I’m setting insane goal paces as a way to avoid some of my feelings. The irony, of course, is that setting unattainable goal deadlines sets me up to disappoint myself and kick off a whole new wave of uncomfortable disappointed feelings.
I’ve been aiming instead to feel the feeling for a bit, and then I have to move on. Stress is definitely the hardest for me to let go of, and it’s probably the most indicative of where my faith is in any given moment. It’s also been the most common feeling of the last few weeks.
I’m not a super strict schedule person, because even when I try to be strict, something blows up and pushes all my meticulous plans aside. To go from a loose schedule to something new entirely with a child home from school who’s definitely used to a routine has turned my brain onto permanent “AAAAGGGHHHH” mode. It’s not that I have a lot more to do – it’s the same amount of work, although I’m doing more consistent housekeeping and actually clearing out some clutter – but there’s a lot more emotional and mental and spiritual work to do to keep my empathy superpower from killing me. The unknown and nebulous menace of dealing with a pandemic is also adding a layer of stress that’s harder to identify.
I know that I feel stress less acutely when I am consistently spending time praying and studying the Bible. I use a prayer app to keep track of requests, and it also has a meditation and preparation prompt that uses Bible verses and devotional writings to direct your time before you begin praying through requests. Some days, that’s as far as I can get (and very honestly, some days I don’t make it to an intentional time of prayer, and it’s just scattered bits when I remember something or start to lose my mind). On my best days, I also spend time reading the Bible and taking notes. You don’t have to take notes to study the Bible, but it’s very much how my brain processes information, so I hand write notes when I’m really studying. It’s also good to just read without the expectation that I need to do anything deeper.
I know that my diet and water intake will also have a huge effect on how I handle stress, though that knowledge doesn’t always translate into the wisdom of action. Same story with exercise. That’s on my list to work on this week.
You may wonder why I started with prayer and Bible study as the best stress buster in my toolbox and spent so much space talking about it. There are two reasons I think it’s the most effective tool. First, focusing on God in a way that seeks to learn more about his character and channels my prayers towards others shifts my focus entirely away from myself and towards an infinitely larger subject. My worries fade in comparison, and I lose the weight of my stress in that time of meditation. Second, meditation is a highly recommended cognitive behavioral therapy tool because it teaches us to calm our thoughts and shift our perspectives and thought patterns. Prayer and Bible study is my mode of meditation.
Managing stress and learning how to let go if it is one huge feeling we can practice the “feel the feelings and then let them go” mantra on that we’re all experiencing to some degree right now. Sometimes just managing stress makes managing other emotions much easier. When that’s not enough, how do we let go of other feelings that want to linger, like anger and sadness? I don’t have a perfect answer, but I have model.
Feel the feeling. Acknowledge that it’s there and know that whatever the feeling is, it’s okay to experience it and that you are not defined by your emotions. If you’re in a safe and appropriate setting, vent it. Cry or shake your fist with rage or write down what you’re feeling. If you’re not in a space that’s conducive to expressing the feeling, note it, and let yourself come back to it when you can. Realize that expressing emotion doesn’t mean you have a free pass to act any way you want without consequence, so think before you act. If an emotion is so strong that you’re not going to behave well, give yourself some time and space.
Once you acknowledge the feeling, examine it. What exactly was the emotion? What triggered it? How did you react? What foundational beliefs affected your reaction? Was your reaction appropriate to the situation? What information would change the intensity level of the emotion you experienced? How could you react differently if you have the same experience again?
Most of the time, taking a moment to examine the feeling lets us take a step back and look more impartially at the situation, and we find that our emotional reaction is less intense than it was in the heat of the moment. Downgrading the emotional intensity is a big step in letting go.
If you’ve examined the emotion, and nothing seems to take away the edge, decide if it’s a situation you can change or not. If you can, make some changes. If you can’t change the situation, you need to change your thought pattern. Whenever the lingering negative feeling pops up, actively counter it with a positive thought or action. For example, with depression, I tend to get cranky when I’m not in healthy condition. When I realize the anger is creeping up, I try to actively avoid confrontations that I know will end ugly, and I remind myself to breathe slowly and remember that whatever it is, it will be okay. Find something to redirect in a positive way the negative thought/emotion pattern that works for you. It takes a lot of practice, and it feels a little silly when you first start, but it’s a game changer.
Even with this model and a ton of head knowledge about what I need to put into action to let go of things and feel better, sometimes I suck great wind. But good mental health is a marathon, not a sprint. As long as you’re moving forward, or at least not wallowing too long when you fall down, you’re building the endurance you need to be healthy.
Sometimes the hits keep coming. You’ve bobbed and weaved, tucked and rolled, maybe even landed a few punches of your own… But the body blows keep coming. What then? How do you stay on your feet? Live to fight another day, as it were.
There’s good news and bad news, and that is: there is no magic formula. There is no mystic ritual or self-help mumbo jumbo. There’s just this: do the next thing; pray; breathe; rest where you can; work through what’s in front of you. It feels like great problems or great stressors should have fancier solutions than that, but I promise you there’s no elaborate plan you’re missing that will fix your issues.
The great news about there being no magic formula is that working through hard things is within your reach. You can do this. It’s not impossible, and you have a very big God on your side who wants you to not only survive, but also thrive.
The hard part is that without a magic formula, there’s no way to avoid the hard work. Sometimes it’s simple work – don’t eat all the chocolate in the house at one time no matter how you feel, maybe even exercise more than once a month – but that doesn’t make it easy. And you know what? It’s okay for simple work to be hard. It happens to everyone. I don’t know a single (honest) person who hasn’t struggled with something that felt easy to someone else. For example, my sister is an excellent housekeeper. I, on the other hand, will willfully ignore dirty dishes for days, and clutter is my middle name. I fight to complete the simple work of not becoming the next subject of the “Hoarders” series.
So how do we keep our heads down and fight through the never-ending hit parade?
Let’s take a look at the best source material I know and gain some biblical perspective.
In the book of Micah, God is speaking to his people through the prophet Micah to tell them that God was angry and sad at their disobedience and their corrupt leadership. This particular verse is my favorite verse in the entire Bible because it sums up how we’re supposed to live as Christ followers in a single verse:
“O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8 NLT
It’s simple work: do what’s right (do the next thing), love mercy (cut your people some slack), walk humbly with God (spend daily time with God and keep studying the Bible). Sometimes it’s even easy work, but in my almost forty years of following Jesus, I have yet to arrive at the point where I get this right all the time. But I’ll never stop trying, no matter how many times I fail.
Hebrews 12:1-2 gives us another perspective:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT
Hebrews 11 is often called the “Hall of Faith” because it lists heroes of the faith that lived before Paul, the guy who wrote this letter to the Hebrews. Those faith superheroes are the huge crowd of witnesses Paul is talking about in Hebrews 12:1. He’s telling us that we can look at those people, who were far from perfect, and we can see their example of faith as encouragement to continue in our faith. We have a race to run that God set out for each of us (so your race will look nothing like my race), and we have to learn how to run efficiently. We need to examine our lives honestly, and gracefully, and decide what dead weight is holding us back. We need to develop our endurance. And Paul gives us a method to use to gain endurance: keep your eyes on Jesus.
It’s simple work: run with endurance towards God’s finish line; keep looking forward at Jesus. It’s not easy work. Paul doesn’t pull any punches about that either – he plainly told the Hebrews that Jesus endured a horrible death on the cross because he could see the joy of the end result. I’m not there yet. I can’t even stick to the don’t eat all the chocolate plan for more than a few days. I’m certainly not at the point of discipline even to death.
So now that I’ve crushed that pep talk, let’s look at one more simple instruction designed to help us through tough work:
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT
More simple work: always be joyful; never stop praying; always be thankful. Wherever you find yourself today, no matter what body blows you’ve been taking or for how long, I promise you have something to be thankful for. You may have to step back and take a big picture view, but if you look, you will find something for which you can be grateful and that brings you joy. Did you know that gratitude journaling is one of the top “homework” activities therapists recommend for people being treated for depression? It helps us gain perspective, and that prescription has been floating around for a few millennia now.
It’s also huge to note that along with joy and gratitude, we should never stop praying. We humans were made for social connection, and God wants us to be connected to him even more than we’re connected to our social networks. In this moment of social distancing, we never have to hold God at the recommended 6’ distance. He wants us to always be in communication with him, and when I look at what truly soothes my anxious heart, it’s always time in prayer and reading the Bible. Everything else I try (chocolate, I’m looking at you) is just an empty filler that doesn’t reach the root of my unease.
Those are all my best sources for how to survive and also thrive despite the craziness around you. But maybe you’re not convinced that there is no magic formula, no elaborate ritual to make everything right. Read 2 Kings 5.
Elisha was a great prophet for Israel, and he had a reputation for performing miracles. In this story, Naaman, who was a very important person as the commander of the Aramean army, also had leprosy. His king sent him to visit Elisha to be healed, and the king sent huge amounts of money as a gift to the king of Israel, ostensibly to gain access to Elisha, but probably meant to impress upon him how great the King of Aram was and how great Naaman was by extension. They were very important people, and very important people expect very important treatment.
Elisha heard of Naaman’s approach, and he merely sent a message to go wash seven times in the Jordan River, and then he would be healed. How do you think Naaman handled that message? How would you have handled it? Naaman was furious. He expected a personal greeting – he was a very important person, after all. He expected some herculean task, but instead all he got was a messenger telling him to go wash in a river that was inferior to all his very important rivers back home.
Naaman pitched a fit.
But Naaman’s officers talked some sense into him. They asked, “If the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it?” Oh, how I love Naaman and his raw human reactions. He said and did everything we say and do when God gives us simple work in response to what we view as the biggest problem/pain/issue that has ever been. We argue that simple work will not possibly be adequate to address our situation, and we pitch a fit.
I bet you pictured Naaman and his king in all of their very important person glory, and I bet you didn’t see yourself in their pride until just now. I never see my own pride right away. I pitch fits.
After I pitch my fit, I try to follow the rest of Naaman’s example. Naaman listened to his officers and gained perspective. He went and washed in the Jordan River as Elisha instructed, and he was healed. Naaman continued his humble streak and went back to Elisha to tell him that Elisha’s God was the only true God in all the land and he would never worship another God.
Naaman went from a very important person attitude to a Micah 6:8 mindset in that experience. God sets us on paths that are hard, and he expects us to follow him, to see the joy waiting for us on the other side and run with endurance towards it. Endurance isn’t always fast or pretty, but it’s consistency developed over time through experiences that test our faith and our willingness to do the simple work of following God.
What simple work are you avoiding? What is the next step you need to take in your race of endurance?
I must focus on the most important things and channel my creativity.
My brain is very often a cluttered place to live. I’ll have a bazillion ideas at once, and it feels like I need to do them all, right now. It can be pretty tremendous pressure, especially when paired with the things already on my task list.
I understand this is a common pitfall as a creative person with my personality type, but I also understand it’s important for me to have some control over the brain clutter. I have learned a few important things in trying to tame the mess.
First, write it all down. I have a journal just for ideas. Random midnight genius inspiration? Put it in the journal and go to bed. Brilliant shower thought? Put it in the book and go on about the day. Putting it in a central idea space makes it easy to go back and pull out later when I have time to consider it and work on it.
The idea journal also gives me the gift of space. It frees my head space to work on the task before me first without losing that random inspiration thought. I don’t have to worry about forgetting it while I finish the open project. It also gives me some distance from the initial idea, so when I go back to it, sometimes I discover it wasn’t as brilliant as I initially thought. (I know, I’m as shocked as you are that all my ideas aren’t perfectly genius.)
Second, just say no. I say this like it’s going to be more effective than it was on the war on drugs when I was in middle school. It probably won’t be effective at first, but it will as you practice more. I’ve learned that if I say yes to every opportunity and every idea that comes along, I won’t do any of them well – if I manage to complete anything at all.
By limiting what I work on, I can be more productive because I can actually finish what I start. My pile of unfinished crafts is proof that all the things all at once is no way to live. The good news is, since I’ve limited the new projects I’ve allowed myself to start, I’ve been working through the old unfinished piles and completing more of them, too.
When we allow everything onto our radar at once, our capability and vision are limited by the sheer volume of stuff on the screen. If we narrow that down, we can channel more energy and creativity into a single project, making it stronger work and completing it more quickly than if it were one of a dozen projects open at once. That focus also makes it possible to move on to the next idea sooner.
If you’re anything like me, it’s a giant happy to finish a big project. That happy far outweighs the frustration of limiting what I take on, so I choose to focus on just a few things at a time.
Do you find it easy to say no to give yourself room to work on the most important things in your life? If not, what can you say no to that will give you some freedom to work on what matters most?
I am growing. Whatever is in my path today is a tool.
Working through depression has taught me that mindset is everything, and I can choose my mindset. It’s not always an easy choice, and I don’t always make the best choice, but it is indeed a choice.
Real life doesn’t run perfectly according to plan. In fact, the more I plan my days, the more God seems to enjoy showing me my plans are nothing compared to his. I can view the kinks in my schedule as obstacles, or I can see them as tools.
Traffic is an opportunity to practice patience (and mercy…); an unexpected phone call presents a chance to develop a relationship; emergent issues at work sharpen my professional skills.
If I look at whatever comes my way as a tool to sharpen my skills or develop my resiliency, then I control how my brain accepts the obstacle. It’s an opportunity instead of an obstacle. It’s a good or neutral thing instead of a harbinger of doom. I control the narrative instead of depression brain. Depression brain works more like Eeyore, which is fine some days, but it’s no place to live every day.
Choosing the narrative also keeps me from being the victim of circumstances. I can’t control my circumstances, but I can control how I react to them.
I don’t have to eat a metric ton of chocolate because I had a bad day at work. I can choose to eat a half-ton instead, or none at all, and find a way to learn from the bad so I don’t keep repeating it. I know it sounds hopelessly optimistic, and extremely Miltonian to my fellow lit junkies, but I can make myself miserable or happy based on how I think about something. Taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ is definitely a Biblical perspective on positive thinking (2 Corinthians 10:5).
No one else can say enough good things about me for me to believe it if I don’t already believe for myself: that I’m a beautiful person and a talented writer and anything else that’s true about me. No one else can fill you up if you aren’t seeking your identity from your Creator and believing what he says about you: you are a beloved, chosen child of God.
It has taken me years of repeating that to myself and building on it to get out of depression brain mode all the time. Mindset and how I talk to myself have been the biggest game changers in my coping toolbox. I choose to listen to and repeat the positive until I believe it. I choose to give less volume and air time to the negative. I choose to evaluate and learn from negatives as a tool instead of letting them be an obstacle.
It’s simple work. But it’s not easy work. It gets easier as I go, but it was hard work changing my thought patterns. It’s also ongoing work that I can never slack up on – depression brain is just waiting for me to fall asleep at the wheel and run me right back into the mess I’ve worked through. As long as I keep growing, I won’t be crashing out of the race.
How do you see obstacles in your plans? What thought patterns do you need to change to grow from them instead of letting them hold you back?
Yesterday was hard, but you survived. Today is a new day.
There are variations of this thought in my journal all the time. The Navy SEALs famously say, “The only easy day was yesterday.” While experience bears this out – every day presents new challenges and new skills to develop that would definitely have made yesterday somewhat easier in retrospect – sometimes yesterday just sucked and there’s no getting around it.
But… Yesterday is done; it’s officially history now. Even better, you survived and made it to
today, so good job, you.
Now that yesterday’s ordeal is over, how can you improve
today by applying something you learned yesterday?
If you deal with depression, surviving today could be as
simple as deciding to keep living and to get out of bed. If that’s where you are, that’s solid
work. Improving might be seeking out a
counselor or going for a walk in the sun.
When your days are super hard, everything feels impossible,
so just focus on doing 1% better today than you did yesterday. 1% isn’t that much. If you survived yesterday, chances are great
that 1% more today will not kill you, either – and you’ll be a little better
off. Just focus on one single thing you
can improve on today and let yesterday go.
“…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Paul reminded the Philippians that we have to let go of the
past in order to move forward. Moving
forward is far more important than looking back. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t deal with
your past and make peace with it; it just means that whatever your past holds,
your present and your future depend on the actions you take today. Yesterday may still be delivering
consequences today, but your actions today aren’t dependent on what you did
Every action or inaction is a choice you’re making, no
matter how intentional you are about those decisions. When you face today as a new set of decisions
– each one an opportunity to be 1% better – it’s easier to not just survive but
We can’t improve yesterday, but your life tomorrow can be
better if you improve on today.