Amplify – Mindset Monday

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:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/danna-perdue-melton-hoover-al/742154

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.

https://www.facebook.com/YWCACentralAlabama/

See the Mountain – Mindset Monday

See the Mountain – Mindset Monday

See the mountain once a day; then focus on the trail in front of you.

Eagle Point at Grand Canyon West, Photo by Anne Weil

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.

Photo from Pexels.com

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?

Feel the Feelings – Mindset Monday

Feel all the feelings and then let them go.

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).

Photo from Pexels.com

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.

Photo from Pexels.com
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.

Photo from Pexels.com

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.

When the Hits Keep Coming – Mindset Monday

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.

Photo from Pexels.com

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?

Photo from Pexels.com

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?

Photo from Pexels.com

Be a Chooser – Mindset Monday

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?

Today Is a Tool – Mindset Monday

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?

You Survived!

Yesterday was hard, but you survived.  Today is a new day.

Stock photo from Adobe

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.

Stock photo from Adobe

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.”

Philippians 3:13-14

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 yesterday.

Stock photo from Adobe

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 also grow.

We can’t improve yesterday, but your life tomorrow can be better if you improve on today.

How can you be 1% better today?

Progress Is Progress – Mindset Monday

Progress is progress. Keep moving and never give up.

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel and never really getting anywhere with any of the things you want to accomplish in your life?  Me, neither.  Ha!

I think we all feel like this at some point whether we admit to it publicly or not.  Today’s Mindset Monday comes from my planner on a day when nothing had gone right for at least a week.  At least that’s what I thought until I sat down and reviewed my daily evaluations in my planner.

I felt like I had done nothing to speak of because I had nothing to mark off my goal checklist.  What I saw when I spent some time reviewing what I had accomplished that wasn’t written on my goal work list was not as insignificant as it felt when I was feeling mopey about it.  I had taken care of my household, worked, done some writing, and mostly stuck to my food and exercise plan.  That was plenty!

It may have felt like nothing was happening when I looked at what I had done on my book writing, but I was still making progress there, too.  It just wasn’t the lightening pace I had set for myself when I planned out my goals.

The Little Engine That Could book cover print
This print was a gift from a college professor who always pushed us to try new things because you’ll never grow if you don’t. It’s hung in my home by my desk ever since.

I’ve been taking a new approach to goal setting and achievement for this season of my life.  I’m not setting deadline dates as often.  If there’s no outside reason for a deadline, I’m leaving it open ended rather than pacing it out on a calendar.

Think of goals as a roadmap rather than a timeline.

I’m still going to get to the end destination, but my pace won’t always be the same or predictable.  Some days I can speed down the highway at 90 miles an hour, while others I’m on a leisurely stroll.  Both are getting me closer to the goal result, and I need to be happy that I’m moving towards it, even when it feels like a snail could outrun me.

With parenting and work and volunteering at church, I’m just not in a space in my life right now to narrowly focus on much else.  Whether I like it or not, that means writing more than my daily journal pages will be the thing that slides down the list of important things to do.  That’s okay, because it won’t always be like that.

In fact, here’s a story of a woman who published her first novel at the age of 95.

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/ohio/articles/2019-03-16/after-years-of-writing-woman-publishes-1st-novel-at-95

She never quit.  It took her 63 years to write her novel, and she did it.  She is my hero and a brilliant example that you’re too old or too late until you’re dead.  Whatever it is you’ve been avoiding because you think you don’t have time or will never be able to finish it, just start.  Start with something small and then just chip away at it little at a time until you’ve achieved your goal.

You can’t accomplish anything if you never start.  It may be slow and feel all kinds of ugly, but slow and ugly progress is still progress.  You only fail if you give up.

Discipline FTW – Mindset Monday

Discipline is most important if you’re going to accomplish big goals.

I find that I repeat this in various wordings and journal entries and motivational memes for my vision board.  I tell myself some version of this statement several times a day.

I wish that meant that I was good at being disciplined about writing and exercising and eating well and housekeeping and…

I have some very big goals, and I have some even bigger dreams.  And I struggle to stay on top of my daily chores list to keep my life and my family running more or less smoothly, much less knock off items on my goals list.  I fight with the knowledge that if I sit down to write or paint, then I am not doing something else worthy of doing on my to-do list.  I have to make space to write, and that space will always come from the space of something else I could be doing.

It’s always a dance of time management.  I think I have two left feet when it comes to this dance.  I am always scrambling to keep up with parenting and housework and work work and goal work.  It’s not really possible to do it all well all the time.  I know that, but I still think I should be able to do it all.

Enter discipline.

Superman working out
*This is not me – just to be clear. This guy is awesome, and this photo and more can be found on pexels.com

Discipline does not mean I will do it all well all the time.  Discipline will allow me to work in each space for a focused amount of time while maintaining an acceptable level of slack in the other areas – when I’m good at it, anyway.

Without applied discipline, I have too much slack everywhere, not enough focus on anything, and everything slides to hades in a handbasket.  What I aim for is to keep doing small chunks of maintenance work every day.  I want to spend less time more frequently doing things like cleaning my house or doing laundry so that I can keep larger amounts of time every day open for goal work.

If I spend 45 minutes per day on laundry and housework, I won’t spend 5 hours on the weekend doing it, which is when I usually get to do the most writing and crafting.  (I say this like I’m an exceptional weekly house cleaner – I’m not.)  If I do smaller weekly tasks every day, even if I skip something one week, I will probably get it the next, and maybe it won’t snowball into horrendously ignored levels.

Also, if I manage to stay disciplined on the small things like completing a daily housekeeping chore, I feel less guilt about what’s undone when I sit down to create.  I need to create, but I’m also responsible for a lot of other things.  It’s hard to escape that pressure to get everything else right before I spend time making something, but if I’m disciplined enough to keep things in good enough shape, I can sit down and work on the things that make me happiest without the nagging feeling that I should be washing dishes.

Mostly, I need to practice discipline to actually get the work done on my big goals.  I’ll never get my book published if I don’t do the steps to get there.  I’ll never finish a painting if I don’t sit down and do the sketching and brush work.  It’s great to have goals; it’s better to make them happen.

Every Day Is New

This Mindset Monday is a great reminder that every day is a new day.  Whatever happened yesterday is gone, and you can only work through today.  It sounds like fortune cookie advice, but it doesn’t make it any less true.  We can only live right now – not in the past or the future.  We can certainly remember the past, and we can plan for the future, but we live one day at a time in the present moment.

As an introvert who deals with depression, I can ruminate on the past like it’s my job.  I can lay awake at night replaying conversations and kicking myself for being an idiot or saying the wrong thing (because at two in the morning, I know exactly what I should have said twelve hours earlier).  I can still recall the horror and shame I felt about making fun of someone publicly in middle school (that was a looong time ago, friends) if I let myself dwell on my past.  Bottom line: that mode of thinking sucks.

It’s destructive in so many ways, not least of them being it cripples the way I see myself now and in the future.  It discounts the grace of God to remove my sin from me, as far as the east is from the west.

Living in the past isn’t living; it’s dwelling on something I can’t change in a way that hinders me from moving forward.  I may suffer consequences from choices I made in the past, but that doesn’t define who I am in this moment.  That doesn’t change the fact that I can only work from here, now and keep improving.

As much as the past is no place to live, I am equally good at getting my head caught in the clouds of future planning.  So much so, that I can plan every pound I should lose and how down to the daily menu and workout level, but in doing so end up planning and planning and planning and never stepping into action.  Or I plan too aggressively and can’t accomplish all those plans in the timeframe I allotted and end up feeling like a failure when I don’t measure up to a crazy standard I set for myself.

It’s easy to get excited about planning a goal, but living in the future is just as torturous as living in the past: I can see the thing I want to accomplish, but I’m planning all the time and never doing the grunt work to get there.

So, how do we focus on the here and now without forsaking goals and planning or never honoring the past?  We remember that every day is new.

Every day is a new opportunity to wake up and start again.  Maybe that restart is just to keep going because you’re on track.  Maybe your restart is more like a reboot with a new objective.  The goal with this mindset is just to focus clearly on today, and work through it without getting lost in the weeds of past and future.  It’s grace to let yesterday go and try again.  It’s freeing to let tomorrow go and just do the work of today.

I love these verses from Isaiah because it’s God saying, “Look, that other stuff we just talked about – that was yesterday.  You just wait and see what I’ll do next.  In fact, I’m already working on it, so buckle up, buttercup, and see what happens.” (Obviously, I’m paraphrasing and taking a little creative license.  Although, I’m pretty sure, “Buckle up, buttercup,” is frighteningly accurate in my own life.)

If God never stops moving forward with his work and his plan, why should we?  While God is never limited by time or space, we are, and we should use those limitations as tools to focus on the thing right in front of us first and best.  The things we do in this moment lay the groundwork for what comes next, and if we never get to work in this day, tomorrow’s work will be a mess.

Live today, then let it go.  Every day is new.  Today is a new day, and I must start it new and fresh without the lenses of yesterday and tomorrow filtering out the purpose in today.