Some days I wake up with a pressure to change the world. I have about a million ideas of things that I must do, big and small and medium and extra large, all very very important and meaningful. Sometimes that is empowering. Sometimes it is inspirational. Sometimes it is a weight on my back that keeps me in bed longer than I really intended.
Other times, I get up and can imagine I have nothing important to do, that it is my job to feel the breeze and attempt to stretch far enough to touch my toes, sitting at my picnic table in the back yard. Today is one of those days. And I felt like eating my eggs and bacon outside, so I did that too.
I love to dream and I love to do. I do not usually love to rest and just be. Something has changed in me these last few years, maybe I’m just getting old, but I just want to rest a little. I walked outside this morning, felt the breeze and thought that what I really want is a nice comfy chair out here, so I can rest on the porch and feel the breeze, watch the dogs chase each other, and listen to the sounds of the morning as the world goes about its day. Including Vera barking every time the garbage truck goes by, me shushing her, and her wagging her tail in gleeful defiance. #ohdoggies.
I feel like I have a lot to do today. Not all of the things have a deadline. I could get by with not doing many of the things on my list, but I don’t abide with just getting by. It’s not how I’ve been instructed to live. I want to be awesome. I want to be the best. I want to be, dare I admit it, perfect. I have to be careful because it is so easy to become confused by this instinct and instead of moving me to be my best self, I am charged with the crime of being not good enough. I want to review materials from the counseling training on marriage I just completed so I can be an even better marriage counselor turns into “I’m not a good enough counselor, I have too much to learn still.” I want to get my house straightened up turns into “I’m a lousy housekeeper, how did you let it get like this?” I want to research a few new ideas I’ve heard about turns into “I don’t know anything.” I want to read that book I started turns into “You should already have finished that by now. What are you doing wasting your time sitting outside feeling the breeze?” #momentruined
Not only is there a laundry list of incomplete items that reveal what an incompetent human I am, this negative translator in my head also tells me that I should already have all of these things accomplished by now. My house should be clean, the books should have been read, the training should have been enough, I should have this all down by now! Why is it that the motivation to do more has to be accompanied with these judgments that seem to crush the impetus to act?
Let me share something interesting with you. You can change your thoughts. Yep. Those annoying jerks in your head that tell you all day long how you’re not good enough and you’re probably going to mess this or that up – you can shut them down. There are many ways to do this, but I’m currently really liking the technique I just learned from Jon Acuff in his book Start. Jon points out that often our fears of being not good enough voice contradictory opinions. I’ll hear something like “You’re never going to be a good enough counselor, so you might as well not even bother reviewing that material, just give up and accept mediocrity.” and at the same time another message comes through saying, “If you don’t review that material, you’ve wasted all the time and training and effort you’ve put into being a counselor.” Notice the fact that my fears are telling me that it’s too late, I’m already screwed at the same time that they’re telling me that doing the task is essential to my worth and necessary to validate everything I’ve done in my life up to this point. WHAT!? How can it be too late to start but also absolutely essential? Sounds like this is just a tactic to make me feel like giving up and accepting that I’m a total failure.
But that’s not what we do, people. We get up and we get our pointer finger ready to be part of an obnoxious argument with fear and we stick that finger in fear’s face (or punch fear in the face, haha Jon!) and tell it just how double-minded and stupid it’s being. We need to mock our fears for the ridiculousness they are trying to sell us. How is it possible that getting more solid in my counseling skill-set can be both too late for me but also entirely essential? Why can’t I just pick up where I’m at and do my best? I’m not good enough? Good enough for who or what? What is there, some agency that goes around stamping people on the forehead? Anyone have that happen yet? Me neither. I just checked to make sure no one stamped me in the night. We’re good.
Next, it’s time for a reality check – it’s time to establish some actual facts. You can keep mocking while you do this part too. I find it especially helpful to be sarcastic with my fears. Let’s move on to the house cleaning issue.
- The cleanness of my home is not a measure of my worth. Can you imagine? Good grief, I don’t even have any kids, it’s hard enough keeping the dog hair from taking over. What does this mean, that with each addition to one’s home, you better get cleaning or your value as a human being declines? Seems a little bit preposterous, doesn’t it?
- It takes about one hour to clean my house, maybe two if it’s really in need of attention. Could one or two hours of cleaning really be the tipping point of whether or not I’m a lousy housekeeper and not good enough? Really!?
- My house was clean yesterday, how can it be that suddenly I have no value as a housekeeper? This would imply that nothing should ever get dirty. That’s just not possible. C’mon fear, get real.
Once I’ve thoroughly owned my fears, both in the sense that I acknowledge that they are residents in my mind and in that I totally kicked their butts, I can choose to believe different things. Today, my day started with a sniff of the breeze and a nice deep breath, and then promptly rolled into, “I really need to get the house clean and I feel like I need to catch up on everything I never fully learned and want to learn about counseling, and maybe on top of that grocery shop and meal prep for the week, and don’t forget to go swimming for exercise, paint with your friend because that really needs to get done, you can’t just not finish those paintings and keep your wedding photography work up in your office all the time, and that reminds me, you probably need to install those shelves in the office, but where are they going to go? Why did you buy those if you weren’t going to put them up right away? And speaking of the photography business, the website needs updating – but do you even really want to do that anymore? Oh sales tax is due today and you have clients this afternoon and a dinner date later. You should probably also come up with a few good ideas for marketing because you haven’t done much lately. Just don’t forget to enjoy some peaceful time outside today too…” Yeah, I feel real peaceful now, thanks. Sheesh!!
Notice how the language turns from I need to, I want to to you should and you need to? This is a big-time revelation for me. Our fears, the accuser, the enemy, whatever you want to call that voice – not only is skilled in doublespeak, but takes away our autonomy by removing from our inner monologue “I” and replacing it with “You”. Instead of thinking through what I want to do for the day, now I’m feeling lectured and accused of all the things I haven’t done. It’s time to take that power back. Now that you’ve mocked your fears, and given yourself a reality check, it’s time to choose new ways of thinking by validating some things about yourself that contradict fear’s style of thinking and accusing, taking back your influence by using “I” in your thoughts.
Here are some things I can acknowledge and appreciate as true statements this morning:
- I have a lot on my plate. That can be hard. It’s okay to have a hard time.
- I’m a dreamer and I always will have more to do that I can actually accomplish. That is the world I live in. I’m usually the one loading stuff onto my plate. Therefore, I get to be the one to take stuff off my plate if I want to. Or I can leave it. It’s my choice.
- I wouldn’t trade being a dreamer for not feeling overwhelmed. I like that about myself. The dreamer part, not the overwhelmed part. But I can accept the overwhelmed part, even if it’s not my fave. Plus, I can work on changing how overwhelmed I feel by changing my thoughts.
- I love being helpful. It drives me to be the best I can be as a counselor. There will always be ways to grow. To say it is too late to grow is just silly. I’m thirty-three years old. If I’m done growing, then it’s going to be a boring rest-of-my-life! To say I have to get all my growing done right now is also silly. I can do some growing for today and there are a few ways that I can choose to do that – reading a book, reviewing what I’ve learned, spending extra time prepping for my cases before session, heck, even writing this blog post counts. The truth is, I have a lot of ways that I can improve, and no one out there is going to tell me I’m a terrible failure of a therapist just because I don’t know everything and have all the experience of a seasoned veteran at the ripe old age of thirty-three. I can keep going right from this spot right here.
- I really like having a clean house. It makes me feel like everything is fresh and I am free to do whatever I want. I also recognize that cleaning my house is a tactic I use to procrastinate doing other things my fears have effectively frozen me into putting off. To deal with that, sometimes I use the urgency-importance matrix along with mocking my fears to kick-start an effective day for myself. It’s not actually true that “I can’t work when my house is like this!” It’s more true that I’d prefer my house to be clean and I’d probably rather clean my house than deal with my fears.
- I like learning and reading and cleaning and organizing and so many things. The thing that ruins it all for me is pressure. I can take pressure off of myself by handling my fears and reminding myself that I have some control over how my day goes.
- I know how to tackle my fears and I’m not listening to any more talk about how “you should probably just leave your fears alone because if you try to beat them and you can’t, it will just validate how hopeless you truly are.” Notice that’s fear trying to run me off the road again. Shut up, fear. I’ve heard that one before.
So, there you have it. You just read me reprogramming my brain this morning, live from a picnic table in a back yard in South Florida! I’ve already accomplished several major goals today – writing a blog post to help others and help myself, developing my credibility as a therapist, relating to others in an authentic way, eating eggs and bacon, sitting outside enjoying the breeze, and almost touching my toes. It’s gonna be a good day. #wontevenhavetousemyAK
Check out some more awesome blog posts about fear by Jon Acuff here. He’s an easy read, you’ll like it, I promise.