I can be easily overwhelmed at times. It might be by a half dozen dishes in the sink, an important email I need to write or starting a new exercise routine. It feels like I have to, I should. I promised at the New Year to write a new blog at least once a month and did the important step of telling a few people. That insures accountability. For me it also can insure dread. I am a big baby who is ruled by two things, pleasure and freedom. In fact, these two things, pleasure and freedom are 2 of my 5 core values. That being said in recent years I have done a good job of engineering my life to find pleasure in doing things I was overwhelmed by. Not just by the magic of caffeine or wine, but by shifting my point of view and bringing in the want to’s, love to’s in my life.
I am a shiftless person and lackadaisical in nature which is driven by a neurosis to get it all done so I can play. Making a list and checking things off is efficient and can bring a sense of peace for me and a false sense of control. I can see all my fellow control freaks sticking their collective fingers in their ears and lalalalalala-ing loudly. I get it; it feels good to get stuff done but in the long run if the only things on my list are chores it makes for a sucky life. It makes me resentful and cranky, a pious prat who thinks everyone is not working as hard as I am because they are laughing, taking lunch outside the office or taking a sick day, the nerve. Any To Do list grows you see. There are always chores to do, notes to be sent, project or program issues to tackle at work, laundry, etc…being really efficient made me a drudge.
In my search to have a great life I needed a better system, I knew a twelve step program for my To Do list was one way, call it denial, call it chaos, I could not go there. I needed to create a better To Do list so I could have a better life. I could try to invite in balance and my old friends freedom and pleasure to everyday life. Whoohoo was my first thought. I needed them back as I am working three jobs and I missed my old friends, P&F, who only came out on the weekends. But then immediately after that thought came another which was a very bad word, in fact, the queen mother of bad words. Yea that one. Look I know I can’t not do all my stuff, I can’t not do dishes or laundry, not go to work and not do work stuff which garners me a paycheck to live. Stuffing fun and play into a weekend was exhausting and I was spending my work week wishing and dreaming it was the weekend. That is not living, that is existing.
I fumbled with this and tried lots of things but ultimately it was lots of little things that made the big differences. The first was when I add a “have to” to my To Do list I also add a “want”. I write things like dinner with friends sure but also alone time, time to paint, walk, and time to do absolutely nothing. Even if the slot was just for 15 minutes, let me tell you it was and is worth it. I live a very structured existence with meetings, classes and even structured play time. I needed to build in some space for pleasure, for creativity for nothing in order to just be. Not have to do, just be, just putter. I carved out Sundays where I don’t make plans and generally don’t even leave the house. I let friends and family know this was a sacred day and I was out of pocket, gone. Sometimes I write, do laundry but only if I feel like it, only if I want to.
I started taking back small pieces of my work day as well. I wanted to do some yoga in the mornings or at least stretch and get in a good meditation. I was getting up at 6am to be in the office around 7:20ish. I started by setting my clock 13 minutes earlier. Why 13 minutes? Because it was more than 10 and less than 15; one felt not enough and the other felt like too much. Yea, I am that crazy. Other times in the past I tried this exercise I set the clock a lot earlier, even 30 minutes, I didn’t stick with it. This I found I could do. We ask “Oh what can 13 minutes give us?” You would be surprised, hell I was. The days I got up earlier and did just a little of those things I wanted and moved through my morning slower with more freedom to stop and look at something, to listen to the sounds of the early morning and best of all I was not running through my routine. I know you think,” How can 10-15 minutes make a difference?” It did. It was a small step and small steps have always been my best weapon for things that overwhelm me. This is something I have written about before those small steps and will again soon. Two months after setting my alarm earlier by 13 minutes I did it again and got it close to almost 30 minutes, total brave girl that I was! Doing this in little stages made it easier and gave me more time to linger, to savor, and even hit the snooze button more if that is what I wanted.
I was a girl who started the day and ended it with thinking about what I needed to get done. If you hear alarm bells going off that would be because you are not only clever, but have a good sense of balance. I did not. Long term it made me sick. It is fine to start your day with a review of what you have to do, it was but bringing in the “what will be fun to do today?” that made a difference. In going over the mental check list of chores and work, I started to add and seek out pockets of fun, pleasure, time. I would think “Who was I meeting with I enjoyed talking to?” Of course, the standard for me is what delicious things I could eat that day. I would plan a 10-minute walk to get lunch on campus and feel the sun on my skin. I would think about all the good things I wanted to do that day and I started to imbed good things in the events that were chores, work, not interesting or not fun. That could mean bringing chocolate covered espresso beans to a meeting and watching people buzz on the sugar and caffeine and feel good about the treat. I changed and morphed my route to work to make it nicer, less stressful. It might take all of 5 minutes more but it is a nice 5 minutes in blissful silence or great music. I started looking at my days as opportunities for pleasure, for connection, for peace. It became my daily challenge: to see how much joy I could experience in a day.
At the end of my day I no longer think about what I didn’t do before I go to bed, I make that list right before I leave the office and leave those have to thoughts there. My focusing on my To Do list before bed was crazy no wonder I couldn’t fall asleep. I thought instead about what were the good things I did that day, things that made me feel happy, feel like I was a help, a support to someone, things that I accomplished, that I was grateful for. I sit with each moment and feel the pleasure it brought me again. I have a To Do list that tells me what I haven’t done, and I see it all the time. Why did I feel the need to play it over and over in my head like a bad record?! It would invade everything, spin me up and make me more anxious, none of which made me better at anything only crazier.
I also created a weird little list on my refrigerator where I record all my firsts, new things and accomplishments that were new, difficult, or fun. It keeps me mindful of trying new things and challenging myself. It can be as small and odd as trying chocolate covered bacon to mastering a new yoga pose. I try to put at least one item a month that relates to mind, body or spirit and try to keep it mixed so not to get stuck in one arena, because let’s face it, I would just eat my way through that list if I could. This list is on the refrigerator to remind me to play, to learn and to bust out here and there. I generally have anywhere between 2 to 6 things a month on the list. It is rare that I can’t think of something or don’t notice a milestone that would have flown by unnoticed before the Fridge List. It gave me a focus and the ability to better notice the things I was doing with my time. And of course there is a sparkly star, or dragonfly or something at the top of the page to celebrate growth and catch my eye.
So some of the components I talked about here to this freedom and pleasure principal are building in time, space, play and fun into to every day. I do that in my Google Calendar, in my day planner, in my head and in my routine. I also stop to notice all the good, the pleasure, the connections, great tastes and sensations and linger in them, soaking them in the moment. We find what we are looking for. If we are looking at all that is wrong in the world, we can easily find it, same with our partner, our day, our job. If we instead look for the good, the pleasure, the peaceful moments, we will find that too. Shifting my perspective and practice of bringing in a balance of have to’s and want to’s brought a profound change in my life. I got a sense of control in terms of the quality of my days, not always in the events. I knew the events were external and capricious at times. Seeing and feeling them from a different place was empowering and brought a sense of being solid and centered. Well that and adding Twizzler Thursdays to the mix did the trick!
“The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no one. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
― Alice Morse Earle
Yes! Though I admit I know this quote more recently from Kung Fu Panda. ; )