Monday, January 14, 2019

How to Make Being Angry Work For You

I am mostly a laid back person, but when I blow, baby, do I blow. However, this year I am (once again) resolving to be a gentler, more peaceful version of me. To concentrate on the good, not spend so much time lamenting over the irritating. I want to resolve and move on rather than stew.

Of course I know that wisdom says you should hit the pause button and wait before responding,  count to 10 (or 100) and all of that. That all sounds well and good, but I often am too caught up in my righteous anger at the time to remember that.

When I do remember to count, I really just use that time to come up with something to say that will really make it clear that I am angry and add a helping of guilt to it.

Rational me knows it is better to calm down so we can discuss the problem and mutually look for a solution, rather than spend that time informing the transgressor of all of their character flaws that led to this situation.

Angry me does't even think about solving problems. Solving problems is hard. Talking about what is wrong with someone else is easy, and doing this ensures that I don't have to change anything, you do (because it's our fault. DANGER: This is victim thinking).  Not to mention people usually defend (fight) or flee when being attacked. They don't participate in problem solving.

If you want to be happy, truly happy, you have to get over feeling justified in being angry. You have to stop believing in the illusion that showing how angry you are with the someone will force them to change, or will punish them for their perceived crime.

It may do some of that, but it will also fundamentally change your relationship with them. We tend to move away from things that make you uncomfortable or bring you pain, so if you keep being the source of discomfort, then that person will move away from you. Plus, it won't make any similar future occurrences conclude any differently. Lose Lose for angry me.

as Aristotle once said:

So, rational me has come up with this plan of a 24 hour hold on responding to something I am angry about. I need something a bit more drastic than counting. I need a rule to keep me in line, not a suggestion, or 'it would be nice if', but a simple rule.

Why 24 hours? A lot can happen in 24 hours. Something is bound to make me laugh or cheer me up, perspective will be gained. Also, then I know I am not responding angrily because I am hangry or irritated with something else.

Most importantly, it also gives me time to think.

I'm not saying being angry isn't okay, and there are times when it is deserved. Any feeling is okay. You can feel however you want to feel. BUT.....You can't (or shouldn't) always act how you want to act (that serves no one).

For you to be in charge of your emotions, you need to name them. In order to name them properly, I need to get past the blanket "angry" label.

Some people (old angry me for instance) label every strong emotion anger. Instead of sad, they become angry. Instead of admitting to themselves that their feelings are hurt, they are frustrated, or feel left out, they get angry.

For me anger is a tool I am used to and comfortable with. I can wield it and its sister guilt very well. The problem with that is that the same tool is always being used for every job when another one will work better. Anger is a hammer, and you can't build a house with just a hammer.  So when I feel angry, that is a clue that there is something else going on that I need to take a look at, and I feel like I need 24 hours to do it.

My first test came this weekend. I get the children up every morning and get them ready for school, which is fine. That makes sense because I am the one with flexible time in the AM.

However, on weekends, each of our kids has an activity pretty early and in two separate places. I take one, and the hubs takes the other. This Saturday, no one (as in my husband) woke up the kid with the earliest activity. The kid he was taking to that activity.  It fell on me to be the one responsible for this. It was assumed, i.e. taken for granted that I would do this. The only person my husband got up and ready was himself.

I was all ready to unleash my my sarcastic comments when he finally came downstairs to take the kid to his lesson, but before I did so I was going to wait to see if he would even acknowledge that I took care of the situation.

And........he didn't. No thanks. Nothing. Not even a hint of "maybe I could have/should have done that, and boy was I angry, but I remembered the 24 hour rule, and it seemed like a really good time to use it.

It took about 10 or so minutes of cleaning up the kitchen before I could calm down enough to ask myself, "What am I really upset about here?" I'm not upset, I'm resentful.

Keep going...What about that makes me resentful? Don't I deserve a day off from my "job" every once in a while too.

Well, hello, now we are getting somewhere. I resent being treated like an employee and not a partner. I resent not having someone look out for me and take care of me every once in a wile.

You may feel guilty here, and think you don't have a right to feel resentful for/because [insert whatever reason]. Once again, you can feel however you feel, properly name it so you can choose the proper tool to deal with it.

I need the right tool to effect future outcomes, so the even better question is "what would I like to have happen?"

I would like to be able to depend on him to notice what needs to be done and not always ass-u-me that I will do it like it's my job. I would like to be asked, like a partner. Like a partner that you notice does a lot around here to keep things running. Like a person who may also want to sleep in.

See, that still sounds angry, and I can't make anyone do anything, so I waited a few more hours and thought on it some more.

Rational 8 hour after the incident (notice I couldn't wait 24 hours) me knows that my husband loves me, and wouldn't do something intentionally to make me feel like I don't matter, so that helps me to be able to calm down enough to talk specifically about the situation (and not his personal failings in the situation), and offer a possible solution. Like, "Hey, could we be a little more clear on who is doing what on Saturday morning because I was looking forward to sleeping in a few minutes longer."

See, totally rational and not angry.

In full disclosure, the conversation didn't go exactly as planned, and I got angry again, but because I put so much thought into what I wanted to achieve, I was able to hold off snapping, take a deep breath and explain how his behavior made me feel in addition to wanting to sleep, so how could we change this together? And, I got a solution and an apology (and I didn't gloat until I was alone).

It's been a week so far. I have had a couple of opportunities to practice. I've missed the pause button a few times, which is fine. I'll keep working on it building the new habit because I have also hit it a few times with success, and success feels better than anger.

*If you like what you read, please share it with friends or on Pinterest or Facebook.

Friday, January 4, 2019

2019: Resolving to Be More Intentional Starts with Being Less Busy and Here Is the Plan

How to live simply

It all keeps coming back to my circle of influence. What can I do with what I have to work with?

But, if I have too much, then I'm paralyzed and do nothing.

I love reading the Little House books. I read them every year or two and have done so since I was 8. They have gotten me through more than one down period in my life. I think it's the atmosphere of home and family that I love and maybe the cozy factor. Here is a family that really had very little, yet lived large. I want that. I want simple baked bread, red and white checked tablecloths. Warm light and family reading, knitting, being together.

Simple doesn't mean easy. In fact, what is simple is sometimes the hardest thing. Having nothing to distract you from you. That's hard. Nothing to hide behind when you turn a blind eye to what you should do, your values, your dreams.

So this year my one little word is simplify. Simplify excuses, simplify stuff, simplify relationships, simplify distractions and obligations that don't support me and what is most important to me.

At the end of the day, I figure it comes down to Me, my Relationships, my Work and my Legacy.

Me. Meaning this is the body and mind I have. Simplify until I can get down to the essence of me. If I strip away all the stuff and the labels, who am I? What do I stand for? How do I want to spend my precious time? What do I need from my body and mind to support these things? What things do I want to keep that bring me joy? What's simply a distraction and not worthy of my time and energy any longer and keeps me from being an even better version of me?

Relationships. Relationships are what keeps you living longer and happier. Study after study proves that the bonds you form with others and the quality of your friendships are the secret to a life without regrets, one of meaning and happiness. Yet, we continue to be too busy, trading virtual time for real face to face time.

It is really hard to grow good quality relationships if you don't nourish them. How often am I "too busy" to spend time with my friends, my family, my children or spouse? And what am I busy doing? Looking at my phone or some other mindless triviality? Am I too busy running errands? Cleaning stuff I don't even like or need?

Are these things really more important than meeting a friend for lunch or coffee, or taking the kids to the park or for ice cream or simply giving someone your undivided attention for 5 minutes? It doesn't have to be a lot of time, but it has to be quality time. So, simplify until I am down to the stuff that really is more important than the most important people in my life (I'm thinking it will be a small list).

Work. How do I spend my time and energy? How do I use my strengths and talents? It is in serving something larger than yourself that you feel most connected and alive.....happy. It is up to me to find my meaning, or my "why" in what I do and how I spend my time. What makes me feel good about how I spend my time and what doesn't?

Working in a traditional environment (for a paycheck) doesn't jive with what my family's goals are right now, so how can I feel like I still contribute in some meaningful way? How can I still use my brain for a greater purpose than laundry and schlepping my kids around (although there will certainly still be that, but maybe I can simplify it to less....)?

One way is this blog. I get to learn stuff, try stuff, connect with and learn from others.

Second is volunteer time spent with people I enjoy, doing work I enjoy for a cause I believe in. I need these three things to be present for it to be worth my energy and time.

Third is my home work. Since I do stay home, the primary care of the home falls to me, and it's a job I haven't always relished, I'll tell you that. This year though, I making a mindset shift a little. Taking care of it is taking care of my family. Providing us sanctuary and a place to come together, to share, to live. Perhaps there will be a marketing plan implemented around the house to remind my customers of that (I didn't say simplifying would lead to me being a saint and above a good guilt trip).

However, I don't want to spend my whole day cleaning and cooking, and getting in the way of the other important things, so how do I simplify?

My legacy. What do I want people say about me at my funeral? What do I want to leave my kids, as in what values, what awareness, what skills, what memories?

I figure every day is an opportunity for me to touch someone in some positive way. To help someone. It can be something as simple as a smile, holding a door, an unsolicited compliment that I think in my head, but don't say out loud, or my patience when I feel anything but patient with the flustered barista making my coffee. Also, I tend to collect bits of information, so maybe it is passing on one of these bits to someone who needs it, be it a great bra, a good doctor, an easy dinner, a good book, a possible business or friend connection.

Bottom line, how can I help someone today? Well, I can't if my life is so busy I don't look or see ways to be helpful.

My legacy may also be what I don't leave - a bigger carbon footprint than is necessary. What that looks like, I don't know yet. How far I am willing to go in trading modern convenience for a larger carbon footprint remains to be seen.

So those are the 4 areas that I figure are the most important to me right now. How or what it looks like, I am not quite sure yet. Those are pretty big areas, and I figure the best place to start is by simplifying. Taking away stuff that takes up my time until I am left with just truth, time and space to make meaningful decisions, to figure it out.

Maybe peace of mind won't be baking bread and knitting by candle light, and maybe it will be, but I won't know until I stop being so damn busy to find out.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 Round-up: Lessons Learned from a Year Pursuing Happiness

I started 2018 off with "Resolving to Be Happy". What does being happy even mean and what makes one happy?

What better way to measure happiness is there than by comparing it to what one wishes they would have done differently while staring mortality in the face, so I looked at the Five Regrets of the Dying.  

To sum it up: wishing the had the courage to live true to themselves, and not other's expectations, not working so hard, having the courage to express feelings, staying in touch with friends, and letting oneself be happier.

This led to me asking myself how I could make sure that wasn't an article I would be contributing my experience to. How to Live a Life with No Regrets . Learning: Keep doing things that won't leave me regretful. This will require me to be mindful and intentional.

A big research project took a close look at the circumstances that influence happiness. Big take-away for me was that it's not winning the lottery or other external circumstances that make up the bulk of your happiness. In fact, you adjust pretty quickly to windfalls (and disappointments) and go back to pre-happiness levels within a few months, so if you are going through a little rough patch, take heart because this too shall pass. Science says so.

However, changing your mindset can have a huge impact. Read more about how here. How Circumstances Influence Your Happiness. Learning: Use some of the tips in this article to change my mindset, namely reframing and gratitude.

I also learned about 3 types of happiness and why you need each of them to truly live a fulfilling life.

I think I have the first (simple pleasures/gratification) one down pretty well, but I sure could use more of two (finding and using your strengths) and three (serving something bigger than you). I took the quiz (link in the article from the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology department's website) to tell me what my strengths are, and I made my kids do it too. Learning: try new things that use your strengths and find a place to use them that contributes to something bigger than you.

I found when I did things that used my strengths, I was happier. For example, I want to volunteer more, but what I found what I was doing to be not so fulfilling. Once I found opportunities that allowed me to use my strengths, I found a lot more satisfaction in my experience.

I researched how to get more done in my life (How a Simple Routine Can Transform Your Life), How to Get Stuff Done, and Productivity Tips and Tricks for Every Personality).

You know what is even more important than organizing your 'to do' list and getting loads of stuff done? Deciding what not to do, and choosing what is the most important stuff to get done, 4 Things I Want to Accomplish Before I Die, Be a Quitter and Get More DoneHow to Go From Busy to Meaningful.  Learning: sometimes good enough is enough. Listen to your body, remember the things that are truly important, and let go of the rest. 

When striving to improve at something, it is inevitable that you stumble. Life gets in the way, you lose your way, you get sick, life happens, you lose your focus. Researching these articles: How to Make a Resolution You Will Keep, 8 Seconds That Could Change Your Life, What Your Best Really Looks Like, helped me pick myself up and keep stepping forward, no matter how small that step might be. Learning: It is never too late to start or start again, even if it is the 10th or the 100th time you have started. 

One of the biggest predictor of happiness is the quality of your social relationships, so know when to let go of a relationship and move on (How to Know When It is Time to Let Go of a Relationship), and check in to see if maybe you are inadvertently damaging your relationships (Are You the Toxic Friend?)

I also learned that I really suck at 30 day challenges. I tried not complaining for 30 days and I failed miserably, and that't okay. What I did learn was there is a recurring theme of gratitude as the antidote (The Cure to Not Complaining).

In fact, gratitude is mentioned in almost every book or article on happiness I read this year. Is there a way I can take a baby step forward and incorporate more of it into my life? Don't know how yet (although I know it won't be in the form of a 30 day Challenge), but it's a goal for 2019. Learning: 30 day challenges aren't for me, but they do offer some bite size goal ideas for me to work on, and it is okay if I take the Day 1 challenge and take 30 days to work on it.

A big takeaway for me this year, experimenting on finding stuff I enjoy, and making the time to do it.

For example, I've been afraid to learn to paint for a number of reasons, not creative or artistic, no time, etc. the time to do. Despite all those nonsensical reasons, I told a friend I was going to do this beginner painting class and would she do it with me. Then I procrastinated, and she reminded me (wouldn't let me wiggle out of it. This is why you enlist others, to bug you, I mean hold you accountable). I showed up with low expectations, and it turns out I really, really enjoy it.

Another takeaway is treat a nagging task like an appointment and schedule the time time to get it done. It feels really good to get something done that's been bugging you.

And lastly, using some of this available time created by getting rid of the unimportant and the not so useful/critical to spend time with those near and dear, strengthening relationships or creating new ones (which takes lots of time, but is oh so necessary to your health and happiness).

Going forward to next year: 2019 is going to be a year of Simplifying for me with the goal of getting to the core of what makes life happy fulfilling for me, and eliminating as much as possible of everything else. 

This will require some tough decisions because often it is hard to let go of the comfort of the mundane and automatic and it is hard to be brave enough to buck against social expectations that don't really serve you.

So, I have a lot to think about. First, what is most important? I mean really the most important. Second, what do I need in my life to not just make me happy, but fulfilled (which isn't always what makes me happy in the short term)? Third, what do I need to get rid of or reduce in my life to leave room for the most important things.

We are taking happiness to the next level in 2019.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

No Complaining Challenge Day 21: Implementing "The Cure"

Well, the no complaining challenge has been a struggle for me. Mostly because I have too much else going on, and haven't been giving it the attention it needs (meaning, normal everyday life is distracting me, and I forget I'm trying to do this no complaining challenge thing). 

So, I goal without a plan is just a wish, right? or something like that.  So, action is called for this week.

I have been passively observing the complaining and not complaining and that has been okay. I have also observed how much those around me complain, and have tried to reform both my husband and my children, and may I say, their gratitude has been strongly lacking.

However, and much as I would like to cure my loved ones of their complaining, rule #1, you can't change anyone but yourself.

Since I have not been doing a great job on always catching myself in the midst of complaining, unless I am on a major venting rant (more on venting next week), I am going to try the gratitude thing with the hope being that gratitude will replace complaining as my auto response.  I believe practicing gratitude will be the cure to complaining. 

The key is to make feeling grateful a habit the same way complaining has become a habit. It is far easier to replace a habit than to stop it.

To develop a habit one has to be consistent. Makes sense because by definition a habit is something that you do over and over again without thinking.

However, if you recall, I am having trouble remembering to do this in the first place, so I need to make it easy. It takes time to build up those gratitude muscles (or build those neuron bridges), and since I know that life will get in the way, I will dedicate some time to working on those gratitude muscles.

The best way to make sure that you work on your new habit is to link it to some habit you already have. I journal in the morning, so that is a habit that I already have established. I'll leave myself a little sticky note on my journal to remember to reflect for a minute on what I am grateful for.

I also want to do this at dinner as well. We have the habit of eating together, so why not make this part of our dinner conversation? All too often we talk about what went wrong in our day, and this would be a good reminder of what also went right, no matter how small.

Some like to do a gratitude list at the end of the day, and if that works for you, go for it.  If you are a planner type person and spend some time each day planning out what to do the next (even if it is a work planner, I still think you can link it if it is something you do consistently), then maybe this is a good time for you to take a minute to remember what is right in your world.

Other articles in the No Complaining Challenge:
The 30 days to No Complaining Challenge
How to Make Complaining Work for You

Sunday, October 28, 2018

How to Make Complaining Work for You (Week 2 of 30 Day No Complaining Challenge)

30 Day Complaining Challenge

Over the week I tried to notice when and about what I was complaining, and I also found I had a hard time deciding at times what fell under the umbrella of complaining.

Let's start with how Merriam-Webster defines complaining.

1) to express grief, pain, or discontent
2) to make a formal accusation or charge.

Synonyms include: bellyache, caterwaul (I love this one, and I'm going to now tell my children to stop caterwauling because it's fun to say), fuss, gripe, nag, whine.

For example, is it complaining to ask my kids, yet again, to please close the dog food container all the way so that the dog doesn't eat all the food in it (or let's say, a whole bag of greenies). This is necessary to say for the good of the dog's health and my sanity. Could this be described as nagging? Is there a better way to get the results I desire without the nagging?

Why do we complain?

It feels good because it gives us a sense of power and hope.

We bond over it. Misery loves company, right?

It does sometimes bring about a desired result and effect change. The squeaky wheel does in fact get oiled sometimes.

However, as often is the case, too much of a good thing is not good at all.

Too much complaining can lead to a false sense of power and hope that actually prevents you from making any real change to the very situation that you are complaining about. You often hear it expressed as, "Well, what can you do?" after a long tirade.

While it might bond you with others, it bonds you to other complainers. 

Humans being the social animals that they are are biologically wired to mirror the emotions in others around them. It is called neural mirroring and is the basis for our ability to feel empathy. Empathy is good, but in the case of too much complaining though, not so good.

Think of it as chocolate or bacon (or whatever else comforts you). A little bit is good, too much of it makes you feel nauseous. At some point, you get labeled as the "toxic friend" others are trying to avoid (Are You the Toxic Friend?).

While you may get stuff done (liked your meal comped after bad service), it could come at cost to your physical health.

We are predisposed to see the negative over the positive. It isn't just you, it really is easier to complain than not complain. The thing is, the more you do it the easier it is because you are literally rewiring your brain to make complaining even easier

When you repeat a behavior, your little neurons reach out to each other and build a temporary bridge. You repeat it again, and those neurons say, "Hey, it looks like this is going to be an ongoing thing, so let's build a permanent bridge to make it easier." (Your brain is super helpful and efficient like that.)  The more you repeat, the stronger they build that bridge.

While your neurons are being efficient and building bridges, your brain is also releasing the stress hormone cortisol, preparing you to fight or flight, directing blood, energy and oxygen away from everything, but what is needed for immediate survival.

You see, your brain is a wonderful thing, but left undirected, it is not good at deciding what is a real emergency and what you are just "venting" about.

Overtime, cortisol impairs your immune system, and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain, and some evidence suggests stroke. Remember, your neurons are busy making this work easier.

So What Can You Do?

How do you get that brain of yours back to working for you and not against you? How do you regain control as the Director versus leaving it up to your brain?

Practice Gratitude. 
You have heard the praises of grateful living and I am sure your have read/heard many ways on how to do it. You can commit to writing 3 things to be grateful for each night. You can make it a family dinner event and have each person say what they are most grateful for that day or do this as part of your bed time routines with your kids.

But here is why you should do it.... because those helpful neurons will also work to build strong bridges with good habits, and overtime the old bridge will become weaker through neglect, so work to build a new bridge, and being grateful will get easier over time thanks to your very efficient and helpful neurons.

What else is in it for you? Practicing gratefulness reduces the cortisol by 23% (According to the University of California, Davis). People also report improved mood and energy and reduced anxiety.

Use mindfulness to make complaining work for you. 
These strong efficient complaining bridges also mean that complaining becomes a auto-response, and a little complaining can be a good thing, remember? Make complaining work for you by asking yourself some questions:

1)What about the current situation is really bugging me? 
Be specific here. Just like we did when we learned to use our words to regain control of our emotions (How to Get a Hold of Yourself When You Start to Lose It) Use your words to identify what is really bugging you about this situation. A friend or journaling can be really helpful on working through this.
2) How would I like the situation to be? 

Once you know what is really bugging you, you can move onto admitting to yourself what you really want the situation to be. Then instead of nagging, you can ASK for what you really want. 

I don't want to make light of this step because it sounds easy, but it's hard. It comes with a lot of baggage that comes in a suitcase named "What if?" 

What if I can't have it like I want it? What if he/she/they say no? What if I try and it doesn't work? The unknown is scary. Complaining is safe, but you don't have to do anything at this point. You are just exploring your options, and one option is always, do nothing, so dream big here. 

3) What can I change? 

There is always something that you can do. You may not want to or be ready to, but there is always something you can do

You can't change the weather, your kids, your family, your spouse, your neighbor. Maybe you can't change your job or your health or other circumstances right now, but you can change you

You can change how you react or you can choose to stop reacting. You can change how you think about the situation. It's not easy. You are, after all, building new bridges, but you can do it if you choose to do it. It will be messy and it will be imperfect and there will be setbacks. Keep at it.

4) What is good or right about it? 

Well, then what is good about the situation? What is right with it? This is a good exercise to do to help you think of even more options open to you.

What about bonding socially over a good complaint? What will I talk about instead?

Go through these questions with your friends. People also bond over creative problem solving. People also like being asked for help and being helpful (which will also get you off the toxic friend list). 

There is a huge difference between dumping (complaining) and sincerely asking for help. Dumping on someone makes them feel useless and it gives them your garbage without a means to get rid of it. Asking for help makes them feel useful. Which ones makes you feel better?

Problem solving is a real mood booster to all involved, even if you don't actually put the solution into action. Obviously, putting said plan into action will boost mood further.

Another benefit of enlisting a friend is that friend will serve as a support to you in putting your plan into place and making it work. If we are being honest, we get more done when we are being held accountable, right? 

So this week..... 

Practice Gratefulness.  Personally, I am going to do the dinner table thing because it is really hard being a non-complainer when those around you are complaining. I mean, because I am interested in improving the health of my loved ones.

Ask some questions when you find yourself complaining

For a real life, imperfect example of this, back to my dog food example. 

To be honest, I yelled a little (or maybe a lot), then I asked some questions.

Again to be honest, they weren't helpful questions at first. They were venting questions. Didn't I ask you to close the dog food container? Didn't you tell me if I bought a different dog food container, an easier dog food container, you would keep it closed? Then why am I seeing the dog's head buried in the new dog food container?

Then, I was able to ask some good questions fo myself.

What am I grateful for? That my kids feed the dogs and I don't (even a sarcastic grateful is better than none at all. It is a new habit after all, and imperfection is to be expected.)

What about the situation is bugging me? I don't want the dog to feel sick, and I don't want him to get sick and I don't want to clean it up (because it will be me).

What do I want the situation to be? I want the damn dog food container closed, always, and I want my kids (not me) to continue to feed the dogs.

What can I change? I can do it myself, but I don't like this option, so.....

I ask a friend or the person responsible for the current situation. First I share my answers above including that I was grateful that she did this, and what my concerns were with current situation and not wanting to have to feed the dogs myself, then I asked, "What do you think would help so that this situation doesn't happen again?" Now she felt better because not only was she not feeling like she was in trouble anymore and helpless to change a situation that was in the past, but she could talk about what could be done in the future. So, we came up with the solution that she would ask me to double check the container when she was done. Not an ideal solution for lazy me, but we are building new habits here, so I'll do it.

On the third day, she wanted to just tell me she closed it. Now it is getting closed without my help at all. We may have a slip up again in the future, but now we have a mutually agreed upon plan to get us back on track, and as a added incentive, I told her I would have her brother check on it if it happened again. He would love to check up on her, and she would like anything but that to happen, so I'm thinking Duke the dog's days of easy, free, eating are over (I hope). 

If I'm wrong, and my experiment fails, I still have these tools available and complaining alone is still not helpful.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

30 Day No Complaining Challenge *

(*Just Kidding, I think I can only last a week, but 30 days sounded way better.)

Do ya'll ever feel like you complain to much? Lately, I've been on this simplifying your life kick, and "don't worry about crap that doesn't matter" always seems to be on a list, and "don't waste your time complaining," so I've been thinking about how much I yell complain. Do I complain a lot?

I want to say I don't complain a lot, but I think I actually do. Like, when I walk through the laundry room, I see the clean folded clothes that the owner has ignored and not put away yet. I feel the legos that I have stepped on that have not been put away, as I try to reach the light switch to turn on the light that was left on, again. I hear the arguing my kids are doing over who kicked whom first under the table and whether it was an accident or not.

I don't think I am different than most people when I say I notice more of what isn't done than what is. I guess I could ask those I live with, but somehow I don't think I will get an unbiased opinion on the matter.

I have read the inspirational quotes that say things like "A messy home is a sign of loved ones living there or time well spent or whatever."

Yes, I agree with that. I treasure my wonderful family and our house full of fur babies. I just wish I wasn't always picking up, vacuuming up, and wiping up the signs of life and love.

So, I read, understand, and feel guilty over these lovely quotes, but I never endeavor to really live their meaning. I do a quick "Yes, I am blessed" thought and move on, never really cleansing myself of the resentment the undone thing I am complaining about brings with it.

I imagine the woman who wrote that is a calm, pulled together Zen like creature with her shit together, who I also like to think has naughty kids half dressed, fighting behind her, but I only want to think that to make myself feel better about the mothering powers of this fictional person I made up. And....I just realized how crazy I sound that I just put this totally made-up person on a pedestal only to tear her down. Shut-up, you know you do it too.

Anyway, despite the fact that I want to hate that fictional person, I also want to be like her in the sense that I truly feel grateful for what I have and not just going through the motions. I mean, I am grateful, but sometimes (or a lot of times) I would like some help and to feel appreciated while feeling grateful. I want my cake and I want to eat it too because what is the use of having a cake if you can't eat it??

However.....I also realize that you can't change other people. You can only change yourself. I have a hypothesis though, that if I change myself and how I interact with the people I wish I could change, I will end up changing their behavior as well.

I want you to do it with me because misery loves company (and OMF, see that "misery loves company = complaining. I just realized that I complained about the anti-complaining campaign I am doing!! See, it is so ingrained.)

And I want togetherness because having some accountability and sharing of experiences helps make the goal more achievable because you are more likely to stick to it. So share with a buddy and let each other know how you are doing with your "no complaining". What has been challenging for you? What have your successes been? Share in the comments if you are feeling up to it.

If you are thinking of not doing it, because you are worried you won't do it well, do it anyway. This is an experiment. There is no wrong or right with an experiment. There is only learning and trying again.

Truthfully, there is a lot worth complaining about in the world, but I can't say I have ever felt better after I bitch about something, so I'm okay with trying some new strategies. I can always return to bitching later. Who knows, maybe I will learn to do it even better after this.

Success for me wouldn't be not complaining ever again. Success would be just being more aware of how I speak about life and to people, and trying out some new ways to see how I like it and what, if anything, it does for me.

My plan of attack:

First, I need to get a handle on how much I really complain, so I will take a few days to get a feel for how big the issue is. That will also help me figure out how I will define "complaining". Is complaining ever okay or called for, or is it a "lazy" response?

Second, Embrace and understand the complaining. What does complaining do for me? Why do I do it and in what situations?

Third, What are the obstacles to stopping? One is that I think complaining is easy and relatable, so I will have to come up with some replacement behaviors.

It is really hard to change a habit, without replacing it with something else.  Take small talk for example, "Whew, it is so hot lately." That's technically complaining. "How was your weekend?" "So busy. We had this, that and the other to do." Complaining.

Fourth, assess, modify, and repeat. Did it matter? Do I want to continue?

So the next couple of days, I will just notice how much I complain. I won't worry about changing it, but if I do I'll just call it a happy side effect of awareness. The focus is on data gathering only.  If you have some strategies to share, please put them in the comments or email them to me.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Review and 4 Lessons You Can Implement Today from "The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck"

When I read nonfiction it is with the intent to learn something that I can apply to my own life, and "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck" by Mark Manson didn't disappoint. Sometimes, I read reviews before purchasing to see if someone will just summarize it for me, so I don't waste 3 or so hours reading what could have been summed up in a couple of paragraphs.

That isn't the case here. There were a number of gems in this short book, and I would recommend it to read because there are things in the book that I may not hit on, but will mean something to you.

Having said that, it is laced with the F-bomb, so if you can't get past that, them maybe just stick to this summary.  I personally don't have this issue (as those that know me well know).

Lesson 1: 

Dropping the F-bomb occasionally is the secret to happiness. I jest, I jest.  Real lesson #1:

Our Culture Screws up the Definition of Happiness.

Manson states, “Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistic positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest.” and that "all the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time-is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures to already be, then emphasizes them for you."

Like when I say, I am a pretty happy person now, but I want to learn how to be happier, then I start seeking all the ways, methods, things that could make me even happier. So, now instead of focusing on what I have going for me now that makes me happy, I am chasing what I think I am missing, on what I am lacking.

Also, it makes us believe that if we aren't happy, then there must be something wrong with us that needs to be fixed or we must immediately do something about it. As humans we are wired to do what is easy to make us feel better immediately like eating a gallon of ice cream, vegging out on the sofa, mindlessly surfing the internet. Sometimes that chase to feel good turns into an addictive cycle as we try to ignore, numb, or mask a deeper pain.  Whereas, if we just admit to ourselves that "I feel like shit today, and that's okay", then we can sit in that for a while, decide if it's necessary to do something about it or if it is just a passing mood and to wait it out (perhaps with ice cream). This is a healthy, normal thing.

However, this is not what happens most of the time. Instead when we feel like poo, it makes us uncomfortable. We panic and rush to distract ourselves in our attempt to pretend everything is okay, and not even giving ourselves a chance to look at what is making us run in the first place.  Then we keep running, until we become exhausted and break.

As humans we have an ability to feel a huge range of emotions. We are not built to feel one or two emotions. Too much sunshine kills things (as my garden can attest). We need the sun, the rain, the cold, the warmth, etc..  People who are not able to feel a wide range of emotions are typically psychopaths. Let's not aspire to be psychopaths.

That song that comes on the radio that you love because it helped you through hard times probably comes from someone else's willingness to wallow in some pretty shitty emotions. Likewise, your ability to face and deal with unsavory emotional states allows you to empathize with your fellow man (opposite of psychopath), and may even drive you to make the world a better place.

So name it and feel it, then go have a bowl of ice cream and revel in feeling crappy for a bit.

So if happiness isn't feeling happy all the time, then what does make you happy?

Lesson 2: Choose Better Problems then Give Less F*cks to Everything Else.

I don't want problems. I want to be happy. Well, Manson gives this advice: you are going to have problems that you get worked up about whether you choose them or not, so why not choose what is worthy of your time?

Manson gives the example of the lady in the grocery store line that gets all worked up over her coupons not working. She is yelling and throwing a fit and holding up the line over $.75, and you are thinking, "For the love of god, here is $.75!"

Yet, you know she doesn't want your $.75. She wants to be angry over the establishment trying to cheat her time and time again, and she is not going to take it anymore! And.....she doesn't have anything else in her life to get all worked up about, so it's the coupons.

How do we prevent this coupon catastrophe or it's equivalent from happening to us?  

Choose better values. Better values helps you pick better problems. The book goes into a lot more details about "shitty" values versus the right values and it is worth the read if you want something extra here. Make no mistake, not making a choice is still making a choice.

Coupon lady could pick some cause to get behind that that line up with her values, and I am guessing she will feel way better about herself for getting passionate over something more worthy of her time than yelling at the poor checkout person just trying to make a living.

Here is a quick exercise to find your values. What are the top 5 things that matter most to you in this world? Family? Starting or growing your business or career? Being kind? Helping the less privileged? Animal welfare? Education? 

I love to read, and I think education is important, so I could volunteer to tutor someone who needs help. I can share my list of tope 10 children's books. I could lobby for education reform. I could make a point to read to my kids every night and help them discover a passion for reading. I could choose to stay at home and read for hours on end. There are a million things big and small that you could do once you identify values that matter to you.

The secret to happiness is knowing what to get worked up about. Having good problems in your life (like so many books, so little time), and giving zero fucks to everything else.  

When you find yourself getting worked up, take a step back and think 1) What are you really upset about here? 2) In the big picture, is it worth giving a fuck about? If not, let that shit go and move on.
Speaking of moving on......

Lesson 3: Action

You've made your list of 3-5 things that matter most now it is time to take action.

Action leads to happiness.

Now you have to get to work. Put your money where your mouth is. Do something that lines up with the values you picked (and again, let the rest go).

Spoiler alert: "easy" doesn't necessary lead to happy.

Sitting on the couch bing watching Game of Thrones won't make you happy in the long term, but achieving something will. The harder it is, the prouder you are, and the happier you will be.

Kids are a great example of this. I love my kids more than life itself. However, they are also messy, inconvenient, loud, expensive, and cause endless amounts of stress and worry. They bring home countless illnesses which they share with me (who doesn't love a good stomach virus?). They change how and where I vacation, and even where I eat. Parenting isn't easy, but they have brought me more happiness, fulfillment and growth than I could ever have imagined, and I wouldn't change any of it.

Running a marathon, climbing Mt Everest, starting a business, even putting yourself out there to meet new people when you are terrified of doing it, taking action and doing the hard thing (and what is hard for me may not be hard for you), is what will lead to happiness.

However, two things generally stand in the way of taking action. Procrastination and Fear of Failure.


Often we procrastinate because we don't know where to start and because it takes a lot of energy to get over our inertia, so we sit around and wait for enough inspiration or motivation to hit us that we get moving.

Here is a Manson nugget that resonated with me. Inspiration comes after action.

You start something, anything, even a tiny step works. Like writer's block, the way to overcome it is to write. Write your name. Write "I don't know what to write." Write anything, but write something, and keep at it. Inspiration and motivation will follow action, not the other way around. 

I do this with the gym. I promise myself I will go and do something for at least 5 minutes, and I have literally gotten on the treadmill, warmed up for 5 minutes, walked down stairs, and just kept heading for the door and said, "Nope, not today." And, I didn't beat myself up for it because I know I will be back and most days won't be like today. 

Try this. Do something for 15 minutes towards your goal every day.  What if it still doesn't work or solve my problem or accomplish anything? What if I fail? I am glad you ask.

Fear of Failure

You probably will fail and you will probably fail many times. Again, if it were easy, you would already be doing it. If you aren't willing to fail, then you aren't willing to succeed.  So do your 15 minutes everyday to practice failing and to build your anti-procrastination muscle until one day you aren't failing any longer.

Lesson 4: You Are Not Special

This one is my favorite. At first I was like, "What? I'm special. We are all special in our own way." But if we are all special, then no one is special, right? 

Think about this for a minute. How much time and effort do we waste trying to prove we are special? We photoshop the crap out of our social media photos and post the highlights of our lives so people can witness the specialness that is us. We buy the "right clothes", go to the "right" places, and our children are so gifted and talented and special, that they are not allowed to mess up anymore. 

But.....Remember, no failing, no mistakes = no learning, unless it is to learn that something is wrong with you if you aren't happy and special. Wonder why anxiety in children and adults is at an all time high?

So if you aren't special, then you must be ordinary, and that doesn't sound so great.

However, there is power in ordinary. Being ordinary is awesome! I can screw up! I can finally learn to paint without fear of being terrible because I am not specially gifted. I am ordinary. I can volunteer to lead this group. I'll do my best, but at the end of the day I'm just an ordinary person doing her best.

I don't need to have the perfect husband, the perfect children, and have perfect hair, makeup, and a manicure for my perfect photos on my perfect vacation. I am free to be ordinary. I can have an ordinary vacation, sipping ordinary margaritas and not shave my legs or wear a bra all week. Hell, I don't even have to post a picture of it because I chose bigger problems to worry about than what other people think about me posting or not posting and filtering my selfies.

Even more importantly, Manson points out, than being free from looking and being special (or more honestly faking it), is being free to appreciate the extraordinary in every day things. Like a quiet evening at home with the hubs sipping wine while our kids watch the original Star Wars for the first time and realizing that the next generation is hooked on something you love too. This is a real, ordinary moment that I treasure, and it didn't even make it onto Facebook.  

You don't have to be CEO of a company. You don't have to find a cure to cancer. You don't have to make it to the Olympics. It's great that there are people out there who strive to do great things, and if that is what is most important to you, if that is the problem you picked worthy of your time, that's awesome. However, if your ordinary family, friends and soap making hobby is what lights a fire in you, and your ordinary low stress job and frugal lifestyle support it, that is wonderful too.

So stop worrying about being special because lucky you, you aren't.

Summary of the Summary

You can be ordinary and be happy if you don't expect to be happy all the time, don't run from things that make you unhappy, choose the right problems based on the right values and let the rest go, take action around those problems and lastly, embrace and be proud of being ordinary.

Here is a bonus tip that works for me when I find myself getting sucked into drama not really worth my time, "Not my circus, not my monkeys."

So today...
1) Forget about chasing happiness and....
2) Figure out what your values are and choose how to focus it, and ignore all the other bullshit.
3) Take action on that problem (even if it's for 15 minutes a day)
4)  Realize you aren't special and go enjoy the crap out of your ordinary life.
5) Then go buy this book so you can read more about the how, and as a reminder when you start to give too many f*cks about things that don't deserve your time.