So much has been going through my mind since I published my last post. Crystallizing the thoughts I shared with you earlier this month was a breakthrough for me and has created an opening for new breakthroughs. I believe that this is the year when things will finally fall more into place for me after years of feeling stuck in the mire of my anxiety and discontent. Granted, I still feel stuck in many ways, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel, a clearing for a new and better reality.
Today’s post is another one I’ve been intending to write since the beginning of the year, but I wasn’t able to slow down and take the time to pull it all together. These more introspective essays don’t necessarily take longer to write than the ones with lots of photos and numbers, but they are more difficult for me to complete. I need to have the internal clarity in order to be able to express myself in a way that makes sense. My brain has felt like a big jumble for quite a while now with so much inner noise that it’s been hard for me to relax or sleep.
Recapping My Theme for 2016
My theme for 2016 was balance. In today’s post, I’ll share some insights on how I did with that theme and I let you know what my theme for 2017 is and why I chose it. In preparation for writing this update, I went back and read all of my posts on balance from last year. If any of you are interested in doing the same, here’s a list from January through my last update in August (on my 50th birthday!):
- Finding Balance in the Closet and All Areas of Life
- Off to a Good Start with My 2016 Balance Theme
- Two Months to 50: Gray Hair Transition & Balance Update
- Hello 50! and August 2016 Balance Goal Update
I’m glad I took the time to re-read all of the posts above, as it helped me to realize that I made more progress than I thought in terms of life balance. The predominant feeling I felt when reading about my balance challenges was tiredness… fatigue. It was just all too much! I could feel the anxiety, stress, and overwhelm jumping off the page. What I saw was a person making things harder for herself than they needed to be. If I wasn’t reading my own thoughts and feelings, my advice to the writer would have been to slow down and let go.
Problems of Our Own Creation
So many of our problems are of our own creation. We think we need to do certain things when in fact they aren’t really necessary at all. Case in point, all of my information backlogs. I would spend hours upon hours “catching up” on reading articles in Feedly, Pocket, and my browser tabs. Before I cancelled all of my magazine subscriptions, I would also spend countless hours going through all of them and either reading articles or snipping them out to be read later. I was so worried that I would potentially miss out on life-changing information if I didn’t read every single one of the articles that came into my apartment or my many data feeds. Part of my great angst around Facebook was my deep concern that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
Enough! I don’t even want to keep up anymore. Conversely, I want to opt out. I don’t care to read every single article from every single blogger on my key areas of interest. I don’t care if I see all of my friends’ Facebook updates. I don’t care if I keep up with everything that’s going on in politics or the entertainment industry. Knowing all of this information hasn’t made me happy and I realize that it never will. I was well-informed but discontented and stressed out.
I chose balance as my word for 2016 because I knew at the core of my being that my life was out of balance. I just had the wrong “prescription” in mind. I thought that if I could somehow “catch up” and get well organized enough, I would feel “balanced.” This is very similar to how I’ve approached my wardrobe for years now. I tracked everything and obsessed about having the “perfect wardrobe.” I thought that if I could curate an amazing wardrobe and be impeccably dressed each and every day, perhaps my ideal life would follow. It didn’t… and it never will.
Like Clothes, Information is the “Booby Prize”
But when I really think about it, the prize which I sought was not to be either extremely well-informed or extremely well-dressed. As I wrote in my last post, clothes are the booby prize. So is information. Sure, learning is important, just as dressing well and feeling comfortable and happy in our clothes is. But these things aren’t all-important. If we turn them into gods of a sort and pursue them above everything else, we will very likely feel out of balance, unhappy, and dissatisfied, just as I have for many years. However, since I didn’t realize that I didn’t truly need more information or more clothes, I continued to steadfastly pursue both of these things. Hence, I was a proverbial hamster on a wheel and each day was much like the last. And my mind remained unquiet, chaotic, and unfulfilled.
In my post announcing my balance theme last January, I wrote the following:
I didn’t need to ponder which word to select for this year much at all. I instinctively knew that balance was exactly the right word to guide me in the coming year. The only other word I even considered was peace, but after a bit of thought, I realized that if I can cultivate balance for myself, peace will inevitably follow.”
You may know what I’m going to say next… I didn’t achieve either balance or peace last year. Sure, I got rid of some backlogs, cut down on my Facebook time, and improved my time-management, and I’m happy about those changes. I also had a big win earlier this year when I unsubscribed from all blogs and deleted the Feedly app from all of my devices. I still look at some of the blogs occasionally, but I no longer feel beholden to them. I no longer have “read blog posts” as an item on my to-do list. That is freeing, just as it was to delete my “active sites” folder and the Pocket app and to discontinue all of my magazine subscriptions. I no longer felt compelled to “keep up” and I didn’t really miss the information churn that was de rigeur for me for oh so many years.
Getting Off the Merry-Go-Round
Each of these changes I made gave me back a little piece of my life. It has been like peeling an onion and it was empowering to take back my time and my life. But there were always more lists to write and more action items to do. Yes, tasks are part of life, but if we drive ourselves like unforgiving taskmasters, we’re not going to feel either balanced or peaceful.
I want to get off the merry-go-round. I feel that all of my driving myself has been an attempt to overcome my basic nature. I have been beating myself up for not being successful in the traditional societal sense. I don’t have an impressive job title, a handsome salary, or 2.5 amazing children to shout out my value and worth as a human being. Because I didn’t have those things, I thought I had to be impressive in some other way. I thought I had to look perfect, dress ultra-stylishly, and be extremely well-informed. Well, “perfect” is an unachievable goal, style is a moving target, and information is never-ending.
I no longer want it all, I now just want enough. Deep down, I know that I have enough, I know enough, and I AM enough right here, right now. I don’t have to scurry along like a hamster on a wheel in order to prove my worthiness to others – or to myself. I just want PEACE! So peace is my word for 2017. It is the only word I even considered and my only real goal, if you can call it that, for this year. I’m not going to set out a bunch of milestones and objectives around peace, as that would be counterproductive, but I will tell you what I’ve been doing thus far to gain peace in my life.
Noticing, Pausing, and Honoring Myself
The very first thing I’ve done is start to notice and pause more often. I have been tuning in to that discontented, inner “unrest” I so often feel when I’m not honoring myself, how I feel, what I want, and what’s best for me. Here are a few scenarios:
- I’m on the phone with someone and I want to end the conversation. I usually keep talking anyway because I put others’ wants and needs first, but I don’t want to do that anymore. Of course, if someone is in crisis, I will be there for them, but if we’ve talked for a long time and I feel the inner nudge to get off the phone, I want to start honoring that.
- It’s almost dark and I haven’t been outside all day, yet I have projects I need to finish up on. Instead of pushing myself to keep my nose to the grindstone, I have been choosing to get outside and go for a walk. I may or may not come back to my computer afterwards, but it’s good for my body and soul to get outside while it’s still light.
- It’s the evening and I really just want to watch TV or a movie or read a book. However, I think of all the things I need to do and think I should go on the computer and knock some more tasks off my list. I’ve started to remind myself that those tasks will be there the next day and most of them aren’t urgent (if they are, I of course do them). I let myself do something I will enjoy.
- It’s late at night and I haven’t been on Facebook that day and I feel I should at least check in. I have been questioning that “obligation” and telling myself it’s okay to take a day – or even two or more – off. Yes, I started my own private Facebook group and I enjoy many of the people and threads, but the group doesn’t hinge upon my participation. I wouldn’t want anyone else there to feel obligated to participate and I don’t want to feel that way, either.
I’m questioning my previous behavior and honoring myself more. I’m putting aside my worries about what others will think of me. Those worries are still there, but I’m not letting them dictate my behavior so much anymore. I still stay up too late, but if I do something other than be on the computer, my mind is able to quiet down better. I’ve also recently started meditating via the Headspace app. Surprisingly, when the ten-minute guided meditation ends, I feel sad and wish it would continue longer. I may opt to do longer meditations down the line, but I’m sticking with the shorter times for now and building the muscle of mindfulness.
I have a long way to go before I feel peaceful and I know it’s not something that anyone feels all the time, but I feel hope for a new reality. Just as I don’t want to open my closet and see a wall of clothes so packed together that I can’t even see what I have, I also don’t want to have thoughts racing through my head at such breakneck speed that I can’t form a cogent paragraph anymore. My clarity and creativity have been lost in a sea of confusion but I’m going to get them back, not by speeding up and doing more, but by slowing down and doing less. And with that, I’m going to have dinner with my husband and watch a movie. Email, Facebook, and everything else will be there tomorrow, and none of it is urgent anyway.