One Step at a Time

You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. -  Martin Luther King, Jr. #quote | Wholeness, Take the first step, Martin  luther king

“Just take it one step at a time.” “Live your life one day at a time.” We’ve all heard these familiar platitudes a million times. A perfect counter platitude would be “easier said than done.” It’s always an interesting moment when a phrase such as these really sinks in and starts to feel meaningful in a significant way. I don’t know what causes these moments to occur, but sometimes a lesson you use to roll your eyes at and ignore, becomes piercing and poignant. I had one of these moments with the idea of “taking one step at a time” a few days ago.

Often I don’t start moving towards a goal unless I have every step of the process planned out in detail. This rarely happens though. It’s a big challenge to map something out from start to finish. Therefore, I don’t take action steps to achieve most of my goals and aspirations. I spend most of my time waiting and hoping one day everything will become clear. The perfect moment will materialize and everything will magically start to fall into place. Unfortunately, that moment never comes.

On the flip side of this I am often paralyzed and overwhelmed when I do try to plan out all the details of something I want to accomplish. Even something as simple as doing the laundry or cleaning up around the house can become a daunting task when you are constantly ruminating over each little step in the process. When you look at all the components lined up in a row, a goal can become an impossible feat in your mind. “I’ll never be able to do all of that,” I end up telling myself, which leads me to give up before I’ve even started.

Intentionally reminding yourself along the way to only focus on the step you’re on is a great way to lessen both of these extremes. If you have a goal and you only know the first step towards that goal, go ahead and take that step. Trust that the universe will reveal the next step once you’ve taken the first one. If it feels too hokey to “trust the universe” then trust yourself instead. Once you’ve taken that first action, you’ll have a new vantage point or new information with which to decide what the next action should be.

Now, I’m not saying this works for every situation (although it might.) But I wouldn’t advise something like quitting your job because you know you want to be an entrepreneur instead, if you haven’t the foggiest clue what you want besides that. I’m speaking more about smaller goals, at least in the beginning when you’re working on building that trust. For instance, I’ve been wanting to start a podcast with my two best friends for years now. We’ve all talked about it dozens of times. It’s almost become an inside joke. “We’ll talk about this for our podcast” or “Wouldn’t this be a great episode? Why aren’t we recording??” The idea never went much farther than that though. Even though we all wanted this to happen, none of us were willing to take the first step. I can’t speak for my friends, but for me, this was because I couldn’t visualize where it would go from there. None of us know anything about podcasting or marketing ourselves.

I’ve finally decided to take that initial leap of faith though. I downloaded a free podcasting app, made sure my friends were still on board, told them to brainstorm ideas, and made a plan for us to meet next week to discuss. Sure enough, the next steps have already been appearing before my eyes. I’ve been having such fun coming up with ideas for taglines and topics. I’ve even been doodling ideas for a logo. It even finally gave me enough momentum to purchase an electronic drawing tablet which I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. (I may be going too hard on the logo part, but fuck it, I’m having a good time.)

Focusing on one step at a time not only helps us make our goals more achievable, it also reminds us that the end goal isn’t necessarily what’s most important. Life isn’t about reaching the goalposts, it’s about thoroughly enjoying the moments leading up to them. When you just focus on what’s right in front of you, it’s easier to reevaluate as you go. Is this still what I want? Is this still making me happy? Sometimes just by taking small steps towards one goal, we uncover new things about ourselves and/or new opportunities along the way that completely alter our trajectory. When we get fixated on the goal itself, we can end up trudging toward it for years only to realize once we get there, it isn’t what we want anymore. That kind of tunnel vision can also stop us from recognizing the other avenues that open up for us along the way.

So if there is something you’ve been wanting to do, but you’ve been waiting for the right moment, this is it! The stars have aligned in the form of this post. I’m here to tell you that you’ve got this! It’s okay if you don’t know exactly how you’re going to get to your goal. You probably know at least one step you’ll have to take. Just start and I promise the rest will begin to unfold naturally from there. The only questions you really have to ask yourself as you go are: Am I going to enjoy this step? Does the idea of this process excite me? Inspire me? When you’re working towards a goal your enthusiasm is the only compass you need. It won’t let you down.

Making the “Right” Choice

No matter the scenario before me, I find myself stressing over making the “right” decision. Even seemingly simple choices are blown way out of proportion. Should I take a walk or not take a walk? Should I order take out tonight or cook? Should I clean today or tomorrow? When you break life down into these small decisions, it can become overwhelming quite quickly.

It appears as though everyone around me is moving through life intuitively, with confidence in their decisions. Even big life-changing decisions like leaving a job, getting married, having a baby, going back to school. I guess it’s not fair to say these are easy situations for others to navigate. Maybe they are just as tangled up inside as I am. I just only end up seeing the final result. Still these decisions are made firmly, as if they truly know it will be the right one. When it comes to big decisions in my own life, I can’t say I’ve ever even made one. Looking back most major life-changing decisions were made for me like getting a scholarship to college. Or I just find myself gently pushed into one like when I decided to do yoga teacher training with a friend from work.

It feels like all this time I have just been allowing life to happen to me, rather than playing an active role in directing my own experience. I guess I’ve always felt safer not being in control of these things. I’d rather feel like a victim than feel at fault. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so hard for me to make decisions is because I know how hard I am going to be on myself if I make the “wrong” one.

I go through each day in a precise set of activities. Even though it might be nice to break away from my normal routine once in a while, I’m always too afraid. It’s not even so much about the tasks themselves, like I once thought. It’s more about not having to contemplate what to do next. When I have a schedule to follow, that takes away a lot of the decisions I’d have to make in a day. Take away the routine and I feel like I’m at sea, drowning in an ocean of possibilities.

The real issue here is thinking that there is a “right” decision to be made at all. Especially about such insignificant choices like whether to go for a walk or not. Rather than just thinking, “Oh, a walk would be nice” and going, or, “Eh, I don’t feel like going for a walk today,” and letting it go, I agonize over whether or not I should. I use up so much mental energy arguing and debating with myself about the smallest things.

I take life, and all the decisions that comprise it, far too seriously. I blow each little moment way out of proportion. Most of the thoughts I suffer over for hours or even days, won’t make a difference in the long run. It’s like I have this delusion if I can choose what to do with each second of my life perfectly, all my problems will go away. I know that isn’t true though. There is no perfect answer. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices. There is just me and what I want. And maybe the problem is I don’t know what that is. Or maybe the problem is I’m always looking for problems, so that’s what I find.

What’s the problem with being indecisive anyway? I can choose how I frame even this dilemma. I could take pride in this “flaw.” I’m quite careful and conscientious. These are excellent qualities. I want to make the most of this precious time I’ve been given. I don’t want to be wasteful with a single second. I am insightful and capable of self-reflection. Already, this mental shift has put me in a better mood. Now instead of feeling afraid and broken, I feel happy and proud to be the way that I am.

It’s so easy for me to look outside of myself for answers. I feel like in order to be happy or to love myself, I’ve got to change something outside of me, like the situation or my behavior. That’s always just another distraction though. I don’t need to change anything external to be happy. All I’ve got to do is give myself the space to find different perspectives of the same “problem.”

When I find myself sweating the small stuff today, I’m going to return to one of my favorite mantras: Can I love myself even though…? Can I love myself regardless of whether or not I go for a walk today? Certainly. Can I love myself even though I have a tendency to choose the path of least resistance and default to routine? Absolutely. Can I love myself even though I often take life too seriously? Of course. Can I love myself even though I spend so much time worrying about making the “right” decision. Yes I can. And that’s all that really matters.

FOMO

In case you don’t already know. FOMO is an acronym that means Fear of Missing Out. Until today, I never really thought of myself as someone who had this fear. I had only heard it in reference to more social situations. For example, being afraid of missing out on important milestones, dances, parties, etc. Today I realized that I do have my own slightly different FOMO. For me it’s more like I’m afraid of missing out on all of the different things I could do with my life. There are just so many options and choices to make in each moment. It’s usually impossible for me to decide. The anxiety I experience from contemplating all of the different options I have leaves me paralyzed, and I end up doing nothing.

What should I do with the very limited time I have each day? Should I clean out my fridge? Tend my garden? Decorate my yard? Paint my porch? Hangout with friends? Find new recipes and make a meal plan? Go shopping? Call my mom? Each and every one of these things is something that I want to do. It’s hard for me to prioritize one over another. I have a difficult time focusing my attention and ambition on just one thing at a time. But I worry that one day I’ll look back on my life and be full of regrets that I didn’t spend my time more wisely. I’d rather avoid thinking about it all together. It’s easier for me to just continue mindlessly going through the same motions that I went through the day before.

I keep trying to remind myself that ultimately it doesn’t matter what I choose to do with my free time. I could do all of these things and still be unhappy. I could do none of them and be perfectly happy. You’d think I would have learned this lesson last year when I cleaned and organized every inch of my house like I had been longing to do for ages. I felt quite accomplished and content at first. Since then that feeling of satisfaction has dwindled and disappeared. Despite my house being cleaner, I still feel like there are a million more things for me to do. But these external tasks have nothing to do with the quality of my life or my ability to be grateful for each day. I already do all the things I really need to do everyday. I don’t have to cause myself stress over deciding what more to do on top of that. Everything else is just extra. None of these things are necessary. I have to remember that all of these little things are insignificant in my life overall. Maybe one day I’ll get around to doing some of them, maybe not. Everything will be okay either way.

What matters isn’t that my backyard isn’t stylish enough, it’s that I am giving myself grief about it and overthinking it every day. It’s so tempting to externalize our discomfort and displeasure in life. It always feels like if we could just get every little detail in perfect order that THEN we could finally relax, THEN we could finally be comfortable and happy. The good news and the bad news is that this simply isn’t true. A much better way to achieve personal happiness and peace is to just be kinder to ourselves. Sometimes I think it’s not even the end result of these tasks that I truly desire, rather the peace and quite inside my head without that little voice constantly nagging me about it.

I’m the only one that can get that little voice to go away though. That is something that I have to resolve from within myself. Maybe the real thing I should be afraid of is living a life where I’m always so cruel and hard on myself. Wouldn’t I rather spend my time on this Earth showing myself unconditional love and support? Wouldn’t doing that be better than anything else I could possibly do? I would really like to find out.

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Remember Why You Started

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly how I ended up so enmeshed in the repetitive behaviors I now perform daily. I thought back to the first time I remember giving myself a similar list of tasks. In the beginning, I remember it being so exciting. I had big plans about bettering myself and working towards becoming the person I wanted to be. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve made a lot of progress towards those goals. However, sadly I seem to have lost the passion that drove me to start this journey in the first place.

It feels like in the last few years, I’ve started to stagnate. These efforts at self-improvement were supposed to be fun. I want to get back to that passion that I once had. I was energized by these activities rather than exasperated by them. I believed in myself, in my potential. I was excited at the idea of reaching my goals. Somewhere along the line I seem to have lost all that faith in myself. I lost sight of the self love that once spurred me onward.

Thankfully, spring always reawakens something inside of me. I feel filled with a new energy as the air begins to heat back up and the sun reemerges. And with the coming spring, I’ve also had an important realization. I’ve been scrambling around inside my head trying to figure out a way to make time to meet a new vegan friend I met online. I’ve been ridiculously stressed out by the effort of trying to cram yet another activity into my already busy schedule. Only after a few days of this psychotic planning did it suddenly dawn on me, it doesn’t even matter if I miss doing all of my usual things for ONE day. How obvious.

The whole point of the things I make myself do everyday is self-improvement. Doing them every day was just a way to get into the habit. It was just supposed to give me direction and a way to feel productive on days when I had nothing else to do. I don’t know at what point it started to dominate my life instead. It seems like for years now, I have been prioritizing these “hobbies” over everything else in my life. I don’t make plans with friends and family because I tell myself I don’t have time for it. I neglect other, more important things, in favor of completing my these rituals. Only very recently have I realized how absurd that is.

These activities were supposed to help me become a better person, not prevent me from living a normal life. The ultimate goal isn’t 365 consecutive days of checking off these arbitrary boxes, the goal was to use my time wisely and learn new things. It completely defeats the purpose if in the end these habits inhibit my life rather than compliment it.

This is why it is so important to have clear intentions for yourself. My intention somehow got lost along the way. Luckily I’m finding my way back to it. Maybe a few years ago, what I needed was to have a more structured routine, but needs change. It’s time I allow myself to change with them. These habits were meant to serve me, but instead they’ve consumed me. Now what I need is learn how to give myself a break. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to rest. I don’t want to look back on my life one day just to see hundreds of checked off to-do lists. I want to give myself the freedom to have spontaneous adventures and make meaningful memories as well.

Tomorrow I want to give myself a long over due gift. I want to have a day off, a day free from my own demands. I want to meet someone new, get to know them. I want to explore and be curious and flexible. I want to not worry about whether or not I’ll have time to read later or write in my gratitude journal. How silly that the act of writing down a list of things I’m grateful for everyday became more important than allowing myself the time to enjoy what I’m grateful for. It’s no wonder I’ve lost all of my drive and passion. I’ve burnt myself out a long time ago. I’ve been running on fumes. It’s time to stop and recharge. It’s time to take a day just to breathe, to reflect, to enjoy the progress I’ve made, and to share my new and improved self with new people and with the ones I love, the ones that have stuck with me through all of these years of being distant and uninvolved. It’s time for me to thank them for that. It’s time for my to thank myself and enjoy how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been. Time to refocus on my intention and reignite that excitement, that passion for my life.

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What Sustains Us

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This week has felt like an eternity. It’s hard to believe it’s finally over. After working from home most days for months, having a full week at the office with a packed schedule was insanely exhausting. And it looks like I won’t have any less work to do next week either. I consider myself someone who is very easily overwhelmed. So it’s a miracle I’ve been able to keep it together so well this week. It’s been a struggle though.

I’ve been trying really hard to keep the promise to myself I made last week, to use whatever comes my way. Growth is always uncomfortable. And I’m trying to look at this week and the next as chances for growth. Even though it’s been stressful, I must admit there is something satisfying about making it though tough times. It seems like we are always somehow more capable than we think.

As I reflect back on the past few days I feel only gratitude. One of the things I’ve noticed is that when we find ourselves struggling just to keep our head above water, it gets easier to find gratitude for the smallest things. Things I’ve taken for granted for the last few months were the very things that meant everything to me this week. When you are home every day it can be easy to forget just how wonderful it is to be there. To light a candle, to burrow into soft, warm blankets while sharing the body heat of loved ones, to rest your head on a plump pillow at night once the time to rest has finally come, to lovingly prepare a hot meal, to enjoy a cup of tea. All of these things often blur into the background of life. But when it comes down to it, these are the moments that really matter. These are the experiences that sustain us, that make it all worth it.

If given the choice I imagine we’d all prefer for things to always be easy, but it’s actually the difficult times that provide the context that allows us to truly enjoy those easy moments. It always feels extra amazing to rest after you’ve been working hard, to shower after working up a sweat, to eat when you are really hungry, to drink ice cold water after a long run on a summer day. This week has reminded me of that. So as this week finally comes to a close, I am grateful. Not only for the chance to rest and recharge, but for the struggle that will make this time spent resting feel truly divine and well deserved.

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Finding Balance

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I’ve always struggled with an all or nothing mentality. No matter what I do I’m either pedal to the metal or not even in the car. It is hard for me to find any grey areas or middle ground. I tend to fluctuate between pushing myself way too hard and crashing and burning for awhile. It’s a very tiring and chaotic way to go through life. Not to mention it leads me to always set myself up for failure.

There are a lot of things I want to work on this holiday season and in the coming year. And thanks to Covid-19 coming back stronger than ever in the US, I have at least two more weeks of remote work coming my way. Although I wasted the summer months I had at home, I am hopeful that I’ll be able to make a plan for myself that I can stick to and be productive with my newfound free time. (I honestly don’t have much to do at work, so working from home is basically paid leave.)

Here is a brief summary of the things I’d like to accomplish so you have an idea:

  • Plan holiday food
  • Finish Christmas shopping
  • Make detailed New Year’s resolution goals/plan
  • Decorate for the holidays
  • Organize/minimize my things
  • Deep clean my house
  • Hygge-fy my home
  • Set up TVs
  • Put up wallpaper in the kitchen

It feels like every time I am feeling overwhelmed by my mental to-do list, writing it out makes it seem far less daunting. I think I will definitely be able to accomplish a good deal, if not all, of those things in the next few months. My only problem is actually allowing myself to space it out in a reasonable way.

The main reason I haven’t already gotten around to doing a lot of these things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now is that I overwhelm myself. Normally I would look at “deep clean my house” and be paralyzed. I’d imagine every little task that larger one entails and feel forced to tackle every single one in an afternoon. I imagine that if I can’t get it all done at once, it will feel unfinished. My OCD is not pleased.

Rationally I know that even doing a tiny piece of it is better than avoiding it entirely. But I am easily immobilized by my own demands. That is why I am going to try to set aside time to break these larger goals down into MUCH smaller tasks. Then I can space these tasks out over as many days as I need to until the whole goal is achieved. For instance, organizing my things doesn’t have to be one task encompassing every nook and cranny of my two story house at once. I can first break the house up into rooms. Then sections of those rooms. Maybe on Monday I will organize my bedroom closet, the dresser on Tuesday, my desk and surfaces on Wednesday, etc.

Those seem like much more reasonable goals that I will be able to feel happy about completing each day. In this way I hope to be able to find a little more balance in my life. I don’t have to choose between reorganize my wardrobe, the kitchen cabinets, and every closet in the house on one single hellish day or avoiding the idea all together.

When I think about the smaller tasks I’ll be able to do rather easily adding up to the final goal being completed, I am even excited! I get that nostalgic feeling of when I was a kid and would happily clean and reorganize my room. I may have done that in the span of one Saturday, but I need to remind myself that it was only one room back then. I can’t expect myself to do that with an entire house in the same length of time.

It is going to feel so good to finally be gentle with myself. Not to mention actually make progress towards these things I’ve wanted for so long! This post was mostly just for myself. Spilling out all the thoughts that have been running circles inside my head and reaffirming my resolve. However, I hope that you can use this as a reminder to also be gentle with yourself. Are there any goals you would like help breaking down into smaller bits? Do you have any tips or tricks on how to reign yourself in so you don’t end up burning out? I’d love to hear you thoughts and/or advice on finding balance.

An Overwhelming Age

In one of my psychology classes in university I remember learning that one famous psychologist suggested an interesting correlation when it came to freedom and happiness. I tried to look up who it was, but I wasn’t able to settle the matter with any certainty. My best guess is that it was Erich Fromm.

Anyway, the idea was that while having no freedom leads to unhappiness, too much freedom can as well. We feel powerless when we don’t get to make any choices for ourselves, but we also begin to feel overwhelmed and distressed when we have too many choices. This idea has stuck with me ever since.

I truly believe that in our modern age, most of the world has started to experience that unhappiness due to too much freedom. Never before in history have we each had so many individual choices to make each and every moment of every day. We are constantly being advertised to, we have twenty or more different options for each product we need to purchase at the store, and we have an unlimited number of options when it comes to the internet which is now an integral part of our everyday lives.

I personally feel paralyzed with indecision on a daily basis. And it has certainly only become worse as society and technology has progressed in my lifetime. I am mentally exhausted from weighing endless choices. Most of the time all I can do is try to shut it all out and do nothing. I used to think this was solely due to my anxiety disorder, but it does provide some comfort to know that this effects everyone to some extent.

It brings to mind a quote by Sylvia Plath that has always deeply resonated with me:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

I have felt this way all of my life, yet never could have created such a splendidly perfect metaphor. I am not sure what we as a society can do to address this problem though. It certainly seems wrong for the government or some other entity to limit people’s freedoms in order to protect them from being overwhelmed by choices. But I do often long to have been born in simpler times. While I am grateful for all the freedom I have, I am also somewhat fearful of it.