Habits from Our Past

How often do we do things just because that is the way it’s been done? There is a story that has circled the Internet many times, and different versions exist. You may have heard of the pot roast whose ends are cut off before putting it in the pan. It is just the way it has been done, but it turns out that the only reason it began, was that it would not have fit in the pan otherwise. In the meantime, generations have been cutting off perfectly good meat for no other reason than “that is the way my family does it”. This certainly sounds anecdotal, though carries a message for us. What do we do simply because that is the way it has been done?

It’s easy to just do things the way we’ve seen them done. How often do we stop and think about whether it works for us and the way we do things? Or that we dislike doing some things due to our previous experiences?

I strongly dislike drying dishes. Growing up, I was in charge of drying dishes. I rarely washed dishes. I became genuinely curious why this happened, so a few years back I asked my mom. Although it was not a definitive answer, the theory was that when she was growing up, she was in charge of drying dishes and came to dislike it. How interesting and actually funny! It reminded me of the pot roast.

We are shaped in various ways by our past. If it benefits the way we do things, great. If it creates more work for us, then it might be time to make changes.

Many people grew up with a day that was devoted to cleaning the house. It was the day that all the dusting and vacuuming was done. A good friend of mine prefers this way of doing things and energetically dives in each week. I personally cringe at the thought and immediately feel overwhelmed. I found another approach that appeals to me more, where 5 days of each week I do some cleaning, so that the whole house is cleaned regularly.

Are there things that you can do differently that will make your life easier? Even small changes can make a huge difference to your energy level and the amount you get accomplished. Are you storing things where and in the way that you use them? What minor changes can you make to simplify your life?

Carpe Diem – Now

“Seize the Day” – Is it that simple? It can be hard to grab each day and live it to its fullest. I know- I tried for years, though after the diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, its importance became so clear. I was on leave, the doctor’s telling me to rest and recuperate, and I was going crazy. I was desperate to go back to work and feel productive, yet each time I tried, it was clear that my body was not ready. So much of what I had always taken for granted was now challenging. I could not simply sit around, and I needed to figure out how I could my maximize my energy and time. When I hear the phrase “carpe diem,” I hear Robin Williams’ voice intoning, “Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary” from the movie Dead Poet’s Society. This has become my motto, the thing that resonates deep within me, and inspires and motivates me to seize each and every day. It is important to make the most of your energy and time despite all the other things that require your attention and time.

The first step is to figure out what areas of your life you want to improve. You probably already have clear ideas of where you’re struggling, the things that cause you stress. Part of this first step, is then to come up with some ideas on how to help control those areas you want to change. If you are like most people the potential solutions can fall flat, leaving you still struggling. Depending on your resilience and experience, you might get so dejected that you give up hope of things changing. Please don’t. Not generally an optimist, I have eternal hope that there is a way to make effective changes for the better.

When I look at my own life, I see that some of the changes I wanted to make where ones that I was not ready for yet. This can be so frustrating. I felt ready, I had been problem-solving solutions, and trying to put them into practice. Except there were things that needed to happen before I was truly ready for change. I know a number of people who recognize this phenomenon also. If not being ready is a major reason for the failure, there is hope after all. At those moments I needed patience and a certain trust that the time would come when those changes were right.

Whatever struggles you are dealing with, there are ways to try to deal with them, reducing your stress. Since there are so many different kinds of struggles, I cannot address them all. Yet the one message I want to pass along- do not be afraid to seek help. This can be as simple as asking someone to be an accountability partner or it can be someone who specializes in a certain area. For instance, if there are health issues, find a doctor who will talk to you and come up with a plan to address the issues. There are professionals in every field and ways to get information and tips that can assist you in the journey of finding more peace. Just open yourself up to asking for help.

Sometimes things have gotten so bad that it can seem insurmountable, especially if we’re talking about clutter. If you have been struggling for years or even decades, the very idea of getting things under control again might appear to be daunting. How much time will it take? Will it be worth it in the long run, spending all that time de-cluttering? Getting through those things makes life so much simpler and is amazingly freeing. I like FlyLady’s point that it did not get that way overnight, so it is unrealistic that it can be fixed overnight. This is one of the reasons that taking small steps, like setting the timer for small goals is so helpful. You can continue to embrace life as much as possible, while still making efforts to improve it in the long run.

Even if your house is not filled with clutter, the inefficient or somewhat cramped space can add to your stress levels. I have been working with a woman facing multiple transitions and we’ve been slowly working on her entire home. She was raving the last time we met about the effects that the changes have been having, not only her home, but also on her mindset. Behaviors are changing- having space in her hall closet to hang jackets has inspired her to hang her jacket up each time she gets home. There is a greater peace in her and it warms my heart to see that.

In my own life, I am always looking for ways to simplify so that I can seize the day more fully. I am passionate about increasing quality of life, regardless of where the struggles come from. I encourage you to find ways to seize each and every day for yourself. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the person on their deathbed and in looking back at their life, they do not wish they had spend more time working or cleaning house. Nevertheless those things need to be done, the key is to not lose unnecessary time to them. Reach for the highest quality of life possible and never lose hope. We are never too old to make our lives extraordinary.

How can you remind yourself to seize the day?

An Organizing Mission for You: Make a List of Things That Inspire You

Your organizing mission this week, should you choose to accept it – make a list. I hope your stomach didn’t just drop to your knees. This is a special list, one that will give you pleasure and one that you will refer back to regularly. The list I want you to make is of the things that inspire, motivate, and rejuvenate you. It needs to be compiled of things that touch your very being, excluding things that are mindless or allow you to zone out.

This list is important for several reasons. One is that, once it’s done, in moments of need (more on this later), you will not need to take time to think of things that motivate you. Second, the items on the list can be used before beginning a task or as a reward for completing an arduous task. Third, this list also tells you the things that you need to make time for even if you do not need a pick-me-up at other points.

A while back I was preparing a presentation and was thinking about the things women stereotypically report wanting time for, the luxurious bubble bath, time to label and organize photographs, or time to bake, yet everyone has their individual ultimate in relaxation. For me, the greatest contentment I can imagine happened for me one New Year’s Day, when I spent the majority of the day lounging on the couch reading. I spent the next several weeks feeling light and free, motivated to get things accomplished. Therefore, this is on the top of my list, though there is not always time for a day of lounging and reading.

There are three moments when having our personal list of motivating and inspiring things is helpful, times when a concrete set of choices that will benefit us. First, we all end up facing situations where our motivation is lacking some oomph. Second, there are times when our skills at procrastination reveal themselves more fully. Third, life sometimes seems even more overwhelming and we look up and see no end to the demands on our time, energy, or money.

Without a list, without that fast and easy way to remind ourselves of what helps us, it is easy to dismiss the things that benefit us. When we find that we are procrastinating or feeling overwhelmed, it is often a clue that we need to take time to care for ourselves. It is often the hardest time to stop and re-direct our energy inward. Having the list means that we can pull it out and refer to it, and we recognize the importance of self-care, and even that we are willing to try it.

Doing something off that list then can help revitalize us; sometimes we need to energize ourselves to work on the next task. Having a list that is comprised of the things that inspire and motivate us is useful in rejuvenating our energy to accomplish what we need to. Sitting on the couch and zoning out to the latest television program does not result in our feeling more energetic.

On the other hand, knowing the things that benefit your state of mind can also be a great “reward” after completing a project. Out of curiosity, I took an online procrastination quiz and many questions dealt with the idea of treating yourself to something nice after getting a dreaded task accomplished. The list that you create would be the ideal place to turn for any reward you want.

There is a fine line between using this list to motivate yourself and abusing it by avoiding the tasks you need to accomplish. Yet the benefits of recognizing the things that benefit your state of mind are immeasurable. This list might offer ways of combining unpleasant or dreaded tasks with things that also motivate you.

Is there music that touches you deeply or one that makes you bounce around with energy? There is no reason that you cannot put that music on while you work on something else. A while back there was a television show on during the day that I was inspired by, so I combined my watching it with my daily stationary bike ride.

The things that rejuvenate you are the very items that need to be on your list. They are things that hold meaning for you and therefore deserve to be done regularly. It is too easy to get caught up in all the things that demand our attention and energy, neglecting the things that can help keep us going. By making time to do some of the things on this list we decrease the burnout that life can bring our way. Doing things for ourselves from this list can also benefit our friends and family for we have more patience and energy by making caring for ourselves a priority.

So I challenge you to make a list of things that inspire, motivate, and rejuvenate you. You can choose to share it or not, but make sure that you can refer to it easily. Make sure that you do not forget about it, use it, remind yourself that you are important and deserve some pampering.

Coping with Feeling Overwhelmed

With all the work and chaos that re-doing the room brought about, I started thinking about the feeling of being overwhelmed. No one is exempt from feeling overwhelmed at times in life. Some people even seem to be perpetually overwhelmed, rarely feeling in control and at peace.

I like to tell my clients that things have to get worse before they get better, and oh, did things get worse in my house when we were redoing and reorganizing the room. I hate admitting it, but in some ways when it comes to my own space, I can be a bit high strung. The mess that accumulated in every downstairs room from emptying the one room was something that had me feeling overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked, there was a mess. As I looked around, I was overwhelmed with all there was to do, feeling a little hopeless at dealing with it promptly. As much as I might not want it, as much as I might shake my fists in frustration at it, life did not stop just because I was re-organizing a room.

I had so many tasks on my list that it felt hard to make any real progress – completing one task still left me with a long laundry list. We’ve all been there – the battle that it feels like you cannot win. Part of the cost of feeling overwhelmed is that we are essentially beating ourselves up. We have lost any real sense of hope. We start thinking that there is no escape and no end. It is hard to move anywhere within ourselves when we are stuck with such thinking. We need to give ourselves a break; would you be so critical of your best friend for being in the same situation? We often offer much more leniency to others than we do to ourselves.

What I tell myself when I start to fall into this self-defeating thinking is that it takes consistent, small steps. It is rare that we have concentrated large chunks of time or energy to delve fully into fixing the various things that need our attention and getting through the things that have built up with time. This also does not address establishing new and more constructive routines. Small yet regular steps are enough to get through the disorder, as well as make sure things end up where they belong.

The way that you decide to react to the feeling is what matters most. If we let ourselves become stymied by feeling overwhelmed, it can be that much more difficult to start moving forward. Facing difficulties in life, whatever they might be, is challenging. It is easy to wish for an easy, fast solution.

Yet, if we can approach the difficulties life throws at us with determination, we will get through it and build up future confidence in ourselves. We can even “fake” feeling positive about our situation to help move us through the challenges we face; practicing the adaptability we would want.

I can tell myself that all it takes is the small, regular steps and even believe it, although it does not always feel that way. I wish it actually eliminated all feelings of being overwhelmed, but it does not always work that way. When I start taking those small steps though, I am reminded of how even 15 minutes can make a dent into what I am dealing with.

How resilient do you want to be? Do you admire people who seem determined to adapt to whatever life hands them?

I read a study dealing with resiliency regarding facing health issues. This applies to anyone facing any situation that feels overwhelming. Those people who scored high on resiliency also scored high in feeling “a greater sense of control over their lives, greater tolerance of negative emotions, trust of their own instincts, and use of spiritual practices to cope.”

Isn’t this what we all want? A way to adapt and avoid unnecessary stress despite what life brings our way.

Take the first step, take a little time every day and start addressing the things that are causing you to feel overwhelmed.

Oh, and the stuff in my house that ended up everywhere during the room re-organization? It’s finally getting back into place, while some of it is finding various new homes. If you know anybody who’s looking for a desk, let me know I have one needing a new home.

Love Doing? Or Love Having Done?

I heard a story of Ray Bradbury giving a lecture.  He starts with asking the audience how many of them want to have written a book and virtually everyone there raises their hand.  Then Bradbury asks how many of them want to write.  Only a few hands lift this time.

I think of this story often, considering whether I enjoy the process of doing something or if I prefer the result of having done the work.  As a professional organizer, I do enjoy most of the processes of organizing.  Not many people I have worked with actually enjoy the process, but rather can appreciate the final product of having organized. 

Then once you have the final product – the organized space – many people don’t want to think about how messy it was before they cleaned it up.  Isn’t it easier just to forget about how bad it had gotten?  After all, thinking about it could make you feel bad about yourself.

The challenge I present to you is to try to appreciate the hard work you did put in.  I found that when I started to acknowledge the difference of the work I did, I actually felt more motivated to tackle some of those other areas that I was procrastinating!  This also applies to many people I have worked with.

Try to soak up the effects of your hard work.  You probably did not enjoy the process of it, but you can appreciate the results of it.  The effect of having spaces cleared of clutter, knowing where many things belong (if not all of them just yet), and wanting to keep up the level of organization will help you keep the momentum up to continue organizing, even when you just want to call it quits.

We all struggle with degrees of procrastination, avoiding things that are unpleasant to us in some way.  What is most important in the long run is what action we decide to take to deal with these counter-productive patterns.  There are many ways to challenge these tendencies, some of which I discussed last week, and I’ll share more in the future.

Finding ways to give yourself credit for the work you have done is a great way to invigorate yourself to jump into other area that needs attention. Become your own personal cheering squad!  Rah! Rah! It looks fabulous and feels awesome to have it done and off the list.

For me the best feeling is a quiet, contentment that fills me up; and I re-discover that feeling every time I go into one of those spaces that has been “re-done.”  The emotional response applies to areas that I looked forward to just as much as the areas that I had dreaded working on.  The difference was that I felt relieved and contented for a longer period.

We are a pleasure seeking society, and in wanting to experience that sense of quiet accomplishment, I found additional motivation to improve other areas.  It is a double win, I would get things done that I wanted off my list and could feel satisfaction for a while at my efforts.

What are you going to do to help yourself accomplish the dreaded tasks?

P.S. I mention the story of Ray Bradbury and although I searched to verify it as more than an urban legend, could not find any information one way or the other.  If you happen to have any information about the truth or falsity of this story, I would greatly appreciate any of it.

I Don’t Wanna!

I was thinking the other day about how there are certain things that I just repeatedly procrastinate doing.  When clients talk to me of those same struggles, I recommend that they find a way to reward themselves for accomplishing the dreaded task.  Therefore, I had to ask myself why it was not working for me since I use that approach for myself as well.

Was it that the reward was not enough of an incentive to tackle the task?  Would it be more helpful instead to inflict a punishment for not doing those things?  According to modern psychology’s view on rewards versus punishment, rewards have been found to be more effective in the long run.

As I continued to ponder this dilemma, my thoughts kept returning to the idea that it all comes down to discipline.  If we do not discipline ourselves to accomplish those very things we dislike doing, they will not get done.  Whether you employ giving yourself a small reward for your finished tasks or take away a reward for not being able to check off some of your chores, the essential element is whether you have any discipline.

So how do you apply discipline to overcome procrastination?  First, let’s define discipline.  Bobby Knight, the famous Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach, has a definition that I’ve always respected: “Discipline is… 1. Do what has to be done; 2. When it has to be done; 3. As well as it can be done; and 4. Do it that way every time.”

We can all probably claim varying degrees of successful discipline in our lives, and the places we falter in our discipline need improvement.  At least when it connects with tasks that do need our attention, we need to have the ability to utilize our discipline to get things done.

When we cannot, it is like tantrum that a child throws because he/she does not want to do that.  Wah!  I DON’T WANNA!  Wah!  It is not fun, so I don’t want to do that.  It is boring, so I won’t do that.  To some extent, it is our inner child saying it is my way or no way.  The lack of our own discipline is our inner child rebelling against doing something that they do not want to do.

How would you treat a child facing the same situation?  How would you convince that child to do those tasks?  How did your parents handle your resistances and what would you do the same or differently?  You know better than anyone does how you can be motivated to accomplish things.  

There is another approach, if there is someone that you can turn to and count on.  As with other things in life, some people suggest having an “accountability partner,” someone who you know is keeping track of your progress and you can likewise monitor their progress with their own struggles. 

We need to recognize that we are behaving as adult size children.  We are resisting the logical and necessary tasks due to a stubbornness and counter-productive mentality.  No Mom or Dad is going to step and do it for us.  We have become adults and have all these responsibilities to take care of, so we need to face the situation and do those things we do not want to do.  Unfortunately the longer we put off doing those things, the bigger burden they become.  It magnifies how onerous those tasks feel and reinforces our detesting them in the first place.

What happens when you do not employ self-discipline on important tasks?