S.M.A.R.T. goals for maintaining control of your life.
Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash
?When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another ? and ourselves.? ? Jack Kornfield
We all have varying degrees of stress in our lives. An approaching deadline at work, a fender bender, a pending personal project, or an unexpected plumbing issue. Then throw in a few unanticipated stressful events like the death of a loved one, long-term health issues, or the loss of your job. The demands of everyday life can quickly escalate.
You can lose sight of your own needs.
Sometimes, life spirals out of control. You struggle to keep up. You have to look past the calamity of events to find your true north.
The events are a distraction.
When you are distracted by life events, you let go of yourself to meet the needs of others. You work late for your boss, you help someone build a business, you support other?s dreams, you volunteer and give of yourself. All the while, you let go of your own dreams or leave them in a box in the garage.
You lift others up while letting yourself down.
I recently lost complete control of taking care of myself. I raced from one extreme to the next, pausing only to grab some fast food and catch some shut-eye.
During a short period of time, my husband?s mother died in Michigan, and my father was diagnosed with cancer in Georgia. Both events happened within days of each other, and we found ourselves all over the place.
I?ve often thought that things happen in threes, but this month after 4 such events, I quit counting.
Even with the added pressure of multiple cross country flights, I managed to take care of the needs of my spouse, our child, and our pets. I found time to wish friends a happy birthday and congratulations on their achievements. I even found time to visit family and friends in several states.
However, I couldn?t seem to find the time or energy to work on my articles or screenplays, to eat well, or to exercise.
It is easy to see how I lost track of my eating habits. It is a challenge to maintain your healthy choices in airports, hotels, and relative?s homes. My generally healthy diet took a vacation of its own. I found myself eating comfort, food, and family favorites from my childhood. My everyday kale salads were quickly replaced by fried chicken, boiled peanuts, and chocolate sheet cake. Yes, I am Southern. And that sheet cake was soooooo good.
My daily hike in the hills was replaced with sitting in airplane seats, church pews, and around dinner tables. Although I will say, you can get a good stride dashing across the terminals of the Hartfield Atlanta airport. Meanwhile, my son took over caring for our dogs and taking them on their daily walks, but I missed hiking the hills and trails in Southern California.
I dropped into bed each night exhausted and overwhelmed and skipped even the simplest Pilates routine. The more workouts I skipped, the more tired I felt. The lack of movement was draining my energy.
I could feel myself losing ground.
I think the most telling thing was that my writing ground to a halt. My screenplay, my first novel, and my Medium articles gathered dust. I published nothing from mid-January to mid-February.
I felt lost in my own life.
In truth, I was the only person losing out. I was the only person I didn?t help. I met the wants and needs of family, friends, and pets, but I set my needs aside. I stopped doing the things that energize my soul and fill my life.
I stopped attending to the one person who needed me ? me.
There came a moment when I could physically feel that my life was off-kilter. I felt like I was riding a tricycle on a busy freeway, the cars whizzing by, I kept pedaling looking for an off-ramp.
I was emotionally drained.
I just needed someone to throw me a rope, toss me a flotation device, or give me a hand up. But, sometimes, when the world is falling apart, all you have is yourself.
Sometimes you have to be your own hero.
On any normal day, I am an easy-going person. I set goals and make choices that move me closer to achieving them. I keep lists and can see if I am staying on track with my personal goals, taking care of family and pets, and maintaining our home.
Looking back on the last month, I can see how my choices each day moved me further from a balanced life. I can also see, given the same situation, how I could have made better choices. Tiny choices that would have met my needs and still allowed me to support others.
By pausing to reflect on my experiences, I found some takeaways that have helped me regain sound footing and move forward with ease and balance.
Tracking Stress Levels.
These are just simple doodles that I keep in my day calendar. Something that I can glance back at quickly.
Level 1 ? Life feels sunny and fine.
Based on an ordinary day, I am able to successfully manage and juggle my responsibilities. I get our dog to the groomer, my kid to the dentist, navigate rush-hour traffic, and submit my presentation ? on time. My kids are happy, the dog is walked, and I have time for a glass of wine with my spouse.
Level 2 ?Life is busy, but happy.
At this level, my daily commitments are slightly elevated and I feel a little over committed. At this stage, my life is busier than normal, but I am thriving in the added responsibilities. Life is full, but happy.
Level 3 ?Things begin to slide.
At this level, life is fully elevated. I have more responsibilities each day than I can handle. Life isn?t busy; it is chaotic. I manage to attend to many of life?s needs, but I let some things slip by. Unanswered emails begin to accumulate, I miss a couple of workouts, I spend more than I save, and I grab dinner on my way home. Generally good-natured, I might now find myself getting a little testy with family, friends, or pets.
Level 4 ?I struggle to stay afloat.
A heightened sense of stress has taken over, and I feel like I am walking on a tightrope. Grasping for control, I recognize that I am no longer in power, I am merely treading water. Life commitments exceed my ability to stay in control. I only manage to deal with the most urgent needs; the rest fall by the wayside including working out, eating healthy, and social activities.
This is where I found myself recently, hovering at level 4 and rising.
At this point, I had a visual image to gauge how I was managing life, but I wanted more. I wanted to do more than see how I was doing, I wanted simple, actionable steps to stay in control. I decided to create a system of SMART goals for regaining my footing.
S.M.A.R.T. ? Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
Find a Mantra.
?You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.? ? Pema Chdrn
Pema Chodron?s quote is a powerful one that immediately shifts the tone of a moment. I can step out of a challenging situation and remember that I am human. Like standing in the rain or in the wind, the weather passes, and I can feel the sun creeping through to light my way. It reminds me that many things are just passing moments. I remember to release the tight clutch it has on my heart. It allows me to release tension and stress.
?The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion.? ? Thch Nh?t H?nh
Honor that you are stressed. Then also remember that there is a way over, around, or through the challenges in our lives.
Pause and do something kind for yourself. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Play your favorite song on the radio. Step away and take a long soak in the tub. Or close the door.
If you need more at this moment, phone a friend. Ask them to let you vent for a full 3 minutes to release the negative energy. When you are venting, you are highlighting a problem. At minute 4 ? stop. Shift gears. Problem-solve with your friend.
There is a solution, find it.
Image by 4144132 from Pixabay
Meditate While You Wait.
Mini-meditations are like power naps, they rejuvenate your soul.
I made a list of resources for myself that are mini-meditations under 3 minutes. I can plug in my headphones, pause my day, and listen. I like the mini-meditations on Youtube and on websites like Mindfulness Exercises.
In just 3 minutes, I can reconnect with myself.
It doesn?t matter whether I am in a waiting room, at my kid?s soccer game, or in my car in the parking lot, I am able to find moments for mindfulness.
When my son was younger, I would play meditation recordings so we could both listen. It helped him practice quiet time for himself. He became familiar with the opening chime to the meditation music and would immediately drop into a quiet, restful peace. It became something we did together. Here is an easy meditation to do with kids. You can find many others online.
Learning to enjoy quiet time is as important a skill as learning to read, play a sport, or do homework.
If you are unfamiliar with full meditations, take the no-pressure path to build up your own meditation skills. Mini-meditations can help you build up to a longer practice.
When your mind wanders, try refocusing on the sounds around you. Let go of your to-do list, your errands, and your chores. Enjoy the peace of a few moments. Even a short practice done every day is extremely beneficial.
I don?t like it when people tell me to breathe when I am stressed. Telling me to breathe has the opposite effect ? it makes me cranky. It usually brings to mind a string of curse words that I want to spew at them.
But, then, a friend suggested this, put your hand over your heart and take 3 full, deep breaths. Pause thought and feel your lungs expand. Listen to the sound of your breathing. Suspend thought.
This works. It made me feel cared for and loved. I can feel the goodness of me watching out for the stressed version of me.
Remember the 4 weeks in my calendar that were completely blank. I wrote nothing, and therefore I had nothing to reflect on. There were no clues about my journey. Last month, the days whizzed by unaccounted for.
I often can?t remember what happened last week, much less last month, or even last year. I remember weddings, births, and other big events. What I don?t remember, or keep track of, is how I am progressing in my life.
I wanted an easy, simple system for tracking my days. Something that would allow me micro-glimpses of my life. I began to discover minimalist journaling.
Image by Michael Korzonek
I have seen various versions of minimalist journaling, but this idea I found here on Medium under Better Humans in an article by Michael Korzonek.
?According to research, the recipe to achieve lasting change combines three major components: Awareness of the changes one desires to make, Identifying potential problems and solutions, Commitment to actually making the change.? ? Michael Korzonek
Before discovering Michael?s method, I had no easy way to get a quick overview of my life. My journal entries tended to be very long handwritten pages. To reflect on my life meant going back through pages and pages, months, and years of long journal entries.
These were tiny little icons to light my way.
I love his method because it is a very visual snapshot of life. I can glance back in my calendar and really quickly see how my month went. How often I walked the dogs, how often I made it to the gym, how many steps I took, how many pages I wrote on my Screenplay, and how many articles I published.
I especially love his idea of writing significant events in the middle of the square. This system allowed me to analyze whether I was successfully navigating life or barely hanging on to the tail of the kite. It?s like shorthand for the soul.
Put Your Oxygen Mask On First.
?You can?t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.? ? Jon Kabat-Zinn
There is a reason the airline instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, then assist others with theirs. By placing your oxygen mask on first, you are ensuring that you will be awake and alert to help care for them later.
I know how to take care of myself, but last month I needed a reminder of the importance of looking after my own needs.
Skipping your own needs is a slippery slope. One day of skipping the gym or walking your dogs can quickly become a week, a month, or longer.
I have discovered that by gifting myself moments each day, I am more able to skillfully navigate challenging situations.
Find Joy in the Mundane.
?The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness.? ? Thch Nh?t H?nh
I?m not too fond of most chores. No, let?s be honest, I hate all tasks that require me to clean. I am good at cleaning, I just don?t enjoy it.
I remember that my Mom hated ironing, but then she learned an ?ironing hack?. She began to go through her prayer list while she was ironing. She would take time to go through every person individually and mentally send them kind, loving, and supportive energy. She would say a prayer for God?s guidance in their life.
By using her approach, I have been able to change the way I approach my daily chores and mundane tasks.
From my young son, I learned to love washing dishes. I watched him wash dishes one evening. He was enjoying the feel of the warm water running over his hands, the slip of the soap suds on the dishes, and the luxurious feel of plunging his hands deep into the dishwater. When I took a moment to actually feel the joy of the water, my perspective shifted, and I am now able to enjoy the time spent washing dishes.
I created soundtracks, yep playlists, to get me through the chores. I know them by heart now. I can dive deep into my cleaning, knowing that it is for a short amount of time. I listen for the last track, and my energy surges, knowing that I am almost done.
I also remind myself that I love the smell of a fresh, clean home. This one thing reminds me that there is a reward for my hard work ? a clean, great smelling home.
?There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.? ? Tara Brach
I love my life. I enjoy every nook and cranny and serious imperfection.
When I meet my own needs, I am calmer, less stressed, and filled with the energy to give my family the best of me.