Slow Progress is Better than No Progress

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Since writing my last post, and reflecting on how I’d finally managed to break down a gargantuan task into smaller actions, I’ve gotten myself a new mantra: ‘slow progress is better than no progress’.  I realise this is already a well worn adage, but these past couple of weeks I’ve found this phrase SO surprisingly motivating.

I can be a bit ‘all or nothing’ and will get waves of productivity which I ride enthusiastically until they ebb and I jump out the water for a lie down.  With my new mantra I’m finding it easier to paddle in the shallows until the next wave of energy hits,  thus retaining some momentum.

Remaining gently active changes my psychology completely.  Where there would ordinarily be stultifying procrastination, there now remains an energetic flow. This is so much better for the soul.  It’s like keeping myself limbered up so it’s not such a shock  to the system when I need to really kick ass on a task.

Recently Vince was working hard on a literary competition submission and for two weeks I was picking up as much of the slack as I could to give him maximum writing time.  Ordinarily this would have meant I lapsed on some of my stuff, thinking along the lines of ‘there isn’t enough time for me to give those things my full attention so might as well ignore them for a bit’. This time however I kept my stuff ticking along.

To give you an example, I noted that since joining the gym a couple of months ago, I was struggling to commit to my former >30 mins of yoga every day.  So for a short while I was skipping the yoga or doing it sporadically or squeezing it in at the end of the day.  By applying my ‘slow progress’ mantra I’m now just doing 10 minutes of yoga on my non gym days and I’m finding that far easier to commit to.  Yes it’s less than I was doing at my peak, but I wasn’t going to the gym for three hours a week then.  10 minutes is better than no minutes, and I’m maintaining a positive connection with the mat.  I’m seeing these 10 minutes as my gateway into longer sessions in the future when time allows.

What has been interesting to note is how what I’ve been learning about mindfulness meditation has informed the decision to scale back the yoga.  The lovely Joseph Goldstein talks about how it’s okay to have aspirations, the problem comes when we hold on to expectations.  I aspire to exercise at least 6 out of 7 days of the week, but I’d set an expectation that I needed to do at least 30 minutes of yoga every day when I wasn’t at the gym.  As I noted my resistance and tuned in to what my intuition was telling me, I realised that 10 minutes of yoga a day felt just right, for now.  I’d removed the struggle (dropped the expectation) and it’s become a pleasure once again.  There’s a whole lot to be said for tuning in to the authentic flow of what feels good and discovering which actions sit just right, rather than forcibly implementing an expectation.

Likewise with Item #1 on my Mr Worry List: my big mountainous ‘glob’ of a project (complex property reconfiguring), I’ve found that by releasing myself from the expectation that I need to tackle it as a whole or have a final solution mapped out before I take any action, I’m really enjoying focusing on the first couple of steps. Modifying my approach by making sure that even when I’m too busy to tend to something fully,  I still move things forward a little, has been a breakthrough for me.  Knowing the pot is simmering gently on the back burner stops it from becoming something oppressive and heavy hanging over my head.  It maintains some life, lightness and forward energy.

I can be impatient, once I have an idea I want to make it happen NOW, but in the last couple of weeks I’m discovering there’s a quiet joy to be had from inching along and letting ‘now’ take it’s time to arrive.  There is beauty in the process and it seems a shame not to enjoy that part of the ride.

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Photograph copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_juhku’>juhku / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The Mr. Worry List

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A couple of weeks ago during our pre-bedtime wind down, the Little Chap and I were curled up together reading my old Mr. Men books, many of which I’d not read since I was a kid.  We came upon ‘Mr. Worry’ which, for the uninitiated, is a woeful tale of a round, blue man riddled with anxiety about everything you could think of (assuming a rise in global terrorism and a decline in our ice caps aren’t in your purview).  A truly troubled soul was poor Mr. Worry, and as we read I kept everything crossed for an upturn in his mental wellbeing.

Not to be disappointed, [SPOILER ALERT], he meets a kindly wizard who tells him to write down every single worry he has.  Mr. Worry is to then bring him the list so he can weave some Mr. Men magic and ensure none of those things ever happen.  The next day Mr. Worry turns up at the wizard’s house with a long snaking list of all his penned worries.

With bedtime successfully implemented, followed by a lightning fast costume change into my jim-jams, I got to thinking about the story and it occurred to me that, just like Mr. Worry, there were a few things on my mind; things that had been kinda keeping me awake at night or generating a low hum of anxiety during the day.  So I decided to put pen to paper and make my own ‘Mr. Worry List’.

I wrote down eleven things.  And do you know what?  I instantly felt better, even in my wizardless state.  My initial observation was to note they were all pretty benign things and I took a moment to gratefully acknowledge that I was lucky to have such an innocuous list.

Nine of the eleven things simply required some effort and graft on my part to reach a resolution.  These were practical tasks, with tangible solutions, such as the creation of a new spreadsheet before I could tackle my business accounts, booking an oven cleaner as clearly I couldn’t face doing it myself, making a technical call to sort out a tenant dispute.  Slightly tiresome and certainly dull jobs but totally fixable and really nothing to lose sleep about.

Only two of the eleven things were trickier and more daunting (in terms of finding solutions that is, certainly none were of life and death importance).  And even looking at the two tricky things, I realised one of them could actually be broken down into a series of smaller practical steps (albeit lots of them, probably over a good number of months) but it could, in essence, join the ranks of the other nine practical tasks.  Until I’d actually written this particular worry down, I’d just seen it as a huge, complicated mess that would fry my brain every time I tried to think about it.  Writing it down was key to breaking that negative cycle. It just shifted something. Helped me get my pragmatic on.

It’s so strange how many of us can worry about unattended tasks and allow them to become shapeless, gelatinous globs of anxiety.  It’s only when we face them head on, one at a time, that their form becomes clear again and the unease lessens as we see a way forward.

So my friends, I urge you to take a quiet moment to write down your own Mr. Worry list, get it out of your head and onto paper and I’ll bet you’ll feel a hundred times better just having a clearer perspective and getting back in the driving seat.  If your list feels overwhelming (hell, Mr.Worry used a whole roll of till receipt paper), tackle one of the easier items on the list first to help gather some motivation; there’s nothing quite like ticking things off for gathering momentum.  Or see if any of them can be broken down into smaller, more manageable actions, this has made ALL the difference for me.

I’d love to hear how you get on; what insights you glean from the process.  There may not be a kindly wizard offering to take care of all our worries, but facing our fears and taking positive action has got to be a close second?  I think there’s a special kind of magic in that.

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Header Image: Copyright Roger Hargreaves 1978

 

Gliding

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Vince and I like to GLIDE.  We plan ahead and we don’t like to live life by the skin of our teeth; for some that’s exciting, for us it’s stressful.

One of the things we’ve identified that helps with the glide is to automate as much of our lives as possible.  This creates a structure around certain areas which in turn facilitates flexibility in others.

For us gliding is about figuring out which actions bring us closer to a sense of peace and ease, and which take us further away.

Some of the positive actions we’ve integrated into our days are:

Positive Actions: ‘Fully Integrated’ (these are actions we’ve been doing for a year+):

Positive Actions: ‘Work in Progress’ (these are things that don’t yet feel fully integrated but are well on the way):

Positive Actions: Next on the list:

  • Diarise a block of time each week for taking care of admin, ‘to-do’ list items, chores (approx 3hrs).

To back track a little, I noticed a big dip in my energy and motivation levels towards the end of March this year following a relay race of family colds.  For a good 2-3 months after that I continued to feel sluggish and let some of my established positive actions slide.  It didn’t feel good.  I needed to take responsibility for my energy levels and not just self-medicate with sugar and mindless trawls through Facebook.  As a result I’ve been taking the Ayurvedic supplement ‘Ashwagandha‘ which certainly helped reignite my spark.  The effects are super subtle but I noticed a welcome brightness and clarity of thought much later into the evening than I had without it.  After a few weeks of taking the tablets, alongside daily yoga I admitted to my reluctant self that I needed to introduce some cardio <insert fountainous crying emoji here>.

You see, I’ve always told the story that ‘I have a poor relationship with exercise because I never really saw my (naturally slim) parents exercise and I was terrible at sport’, but when I thought about it I was actually able to identify several pockets of time in my post-school life where I have had a good relationship with exercise. I needed to ‘flip the script’ and start telling a different story.  I’ve since joined our local gym and have committed to an hour three times a week. My energy levels have continued to increase along with my productivity, and motivation to ‘get shit done’.

One of the prompts in my Daily Greatness Journal is ‘What is going well and why?’ Consistently the ‘why’ is: ‘X is going well because I’ve made it a priority and I’ve psychologically committed to doing it’.  It really does come down to that.

I’ve mentioned here before that a great trick for me is to schedule these positive actions into my diary ahead of time, so for example I have decided I will go to the gym Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings first thing.  By making this decision in advance I’ve helped remove that internal negotiation each morning of, ‘shall I go to the gym today?  I’m feeling a bit tired, I could go tomorrow and then I’ll work REALLY, EXTRA, WONDER WOMAN-LY hard because of course I’ll feel less tired tomorrow…’  Without that pre-commitment I’d be extremely susceptible to talking myself out of it, kicking that can down the road.  Instead I’ve identified those slots in my week, and consider them set in stone.  The night before I also write it in my schedule for the next day to further commit.  When I wake up it feels like a done deal, I just get up and go with no shilly-shallying. It really seems to be working for me.

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One thing I’m trying to square is just how long it takes to fit in all the good practices into my day.  Much of it means time away from the Little Chap.  1hr of exercise + 20 minutes meditation + 5 minutes diary writing + 10 minutes YNAB update + 20 minutes on laundry – that’s around 2hrs a day.  For a while I was feeling like I must ‘get through’ those tasks so I can get on with my day but slowly I’m realising those things are my day, that they deserve the time required and that actually the positive effect will benefit the Little Chap.  I have more physical energy for play, meditation is making us calmer and more patient, I’m demonstrating the life skill of setting positive goals and tracking them in a journal, he’ll grow up knowing how to manage his finances, and in the meantime we won’t be overly stressed about money, he’ll see the benefit of keeping on top of things like laundry to avoid that clothes mountain overwhelm.  Of course some of these things can also be done when he’s in bed!  A major revelation to me was looking at how long I could spend on Facebook, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.  I’m sure across the whole day it could easily have been an hour.  That’s THIRTY HOURS A MONTH!  What could you achieve if you had THIRTY HOURS A MONTH to play with? Our introduction of a daily meditation practice was a no-brainer swap.  Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to prioritise new things and invest in the glide.

When we consider implementing a positive action we usually have to accept an initial sense of loss.  If we want to lose weight we will mourn those times of over-indulging , if we want to fit in exercise we may have to forfeit that delicious extra time in bed, sorting out our finances may mean we have to forego holidays, new clothes, meals out.

Of course ALLL the positive actions don’t magically weave a protective bubble around us and things do go wrong from time to time.  Just recently our car, fridge freezer, a wall of shelves and our loo all broke in the same week.  In the past we’d have felt like the Universe was against us but because we have our YNAB budget we had already, month by month, set aside money in several emergency funds to cover these things.  Of course we’d rather not have had to spend all that money but as it had already been given that specific job it really didn’t sting that much to get repairs and replacements sorted.

Before we make a mental commitment to introduce positive changes, all we can picture is that no-man’s land of restriction but without the benefits those positive actions will ultimately give us.  That looks like a sucky place to be, zero fun.  Emotionally we can be extremely resistant to taking up residence there even if we know it’s only for a while; this is where I’ve found it helpful to ‘fake it ’til I make it’, over-ride emotion by getting practical and make a concrete plan, put things in diaries, walk confidently past our whining doubtful selves clinging on to the takeaway menu like it was a jackpot lottery ticket.

Make deals with yourself on the really tough days:  don’t even think about getting on the treadmill, just focus on getting into your gym kit. Once you’re in your gym kit you might as well drive to the gym.  Once you’re at the gym you might as well do a few belligerent minutes on the treadmill. Before you know it you’ve done your hour and the virtue just drips off you (yesiree that’s glowy virtue I’m wiping off the machines after I’ve used them).  Keep showing up to the task, find your inner grit, accept you’re not gonna love it at first but trust that eventually you will (well you’ll love the after-effects at the very least).

Before you know it you’ll no longer be faking it,  you’ll feel that glide and then YOU’RE OFF…

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Header pic: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_anagram1′>anagram1 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Clock pic: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_james63′>james63 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

No Man’s Land pic: courtesy of: http://tomtunguz.com/