On My Mind

I realize I haven’t been posting as frequently. I’ve been working on my novel. It’s slow going. I have 5,000 words, but I’m also doing in depth character sketches. I have an idea of where the book is going, but after juggling several characters I felt spending time on research and character sketches was the way to go.

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and I guess this makes me a better writer. But a lot of what’s been on my mind can’t be shared with you all–not at this point. Most importantly, I’m trying to get myself organized in my writing and in my life. I’ve had some issues with my kids, but I try not to write about them in the public sphere unless it’s something positive. I don’t want them reading something later on and saying, “Mom, why’d you write that about me or say that about me?” I find that wholly unfair to them. Especially now that I have an almost teenager. Lord knows my very existence is embarrassing enough to him.

Most days, I still feel like I’m pretending. I feel like I’m pretending to be a writer. I feel like I’m pretending to be a good parent. I feel like I’m pretending to be a friend. I guess writers think too much, which can be debilitating. Maybe I haven’t taken enough risks in my life. I’m timid in a lot of ways (Hubby would say I’m a bulldog, but not where it matters). I always think, “I could have done this or I could have done that, but I didn’t follow through.” Follow through is important. Taking calculated risks are important. I seem to always play it safe. I’m tired of safe.

The other day, Middle Son said, “Maybe when you’re a rich and famous author we can go to London.”

And I said, “It’s hard to become a famous author.”

And he said, “But you will, Mom.” No question in his heart that his mommy would be famous one day. I wish I had the faith my child has in me. I’m endlessly hard on myself. And I fear I’m endlessly hard on my kids too. I’m hard on my friends. I hold grudges for no reason, or because someone said something to me that hurt my feelings. I probably don’t listen enough. Life, success, friendships–they’re all so hard to navigate.

Last week, I decided I would count my calories again and exercise. I ran 4 times last week. I plugged my food into MyFitnessPal–when it was convenient. Again with the half-assedness. I keep asking myself why I’m not losing weight as I stuff another chocolate bar in my mouth! Okay, not really, but at 140 calories for 1 1/4 cup, eating a whole bag of Chicago Mix surely adds up.

I’m not where I want to be with my life, writing, friendships, weight because of ME. I tell my kids that they are responsible for their grades and their schoolwork. I tell them they will do well if they try hard. I tell them the only person they have to blame if they fail is themselves. Yet I can’t seem to figure this out or apply it to my own life.

On the whole, I’m happy, but I still feel like there is something missing. My sister said the other day, “You’re like me, you get bored. You have to be driven.” And that’s true, but my drive waxes and wanes like my moods. Perhaps I have ADHD, never diagnosed. A not-so-wonderful Kindergarten teacher told my mother that I’d never go to college. Perhaps she could see my desire to give up. It seems innate in me. When the going gets tough–give up. When there’s too much work–sit and watch Netflix for an hour. When the kids are driving me batty–run away to a hot bath. But isn’t even saying it’s because this or that a form of blame–a form of not looking in the mirror and seeing my flaws and my positive character traits–seeing myself for who I am: me. I need to face things head on. I need to make the hard decisions and take the risks necessary to make my life meaningful and to feel fulfilled.

But why is that so hard for me to do?

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Intentional

I’ve been working on being more intentional in my life. It’s a thing, you know. I’ve felt, lately, like my life is passing me by. I have a lot of goals, but I haven’t done much to achieve those goals. A friend of mine told me to just write the book (he may have inserted a curse word in between). Friends tell me this often. They don’t realize it’s a process, but they have the best intentions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I might have done some things differently years ago. That’s called depression. Or hindsight. To quote George, from Life As A House, “Hindsight. It’s like foresight without a future.” I try to tell myself that often. Because nothing good comes from the what-ifs.

When I graduated from college back in the dark ages, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. This big adventurous part of me wanted to go to Bangladesh and get involved in microfinance. But this homebody, security-seeking part of me, wanted to do what was safe and get a job in the United States settle down, get married, have a kid or three, and just be settled. Back then, I chose safety over risk. And, you know, it worked out for me. I have a wonderful husband who cares about me, three great kids, and we’ve built a very comfortable life where we can travel when we want to, provide for our kids, and are generally pretty happy.

Except. There’s always a “but,” right. Except, there’s this part of me that wants to take a risk. There’s a part of me that wants to make a change. Write the book. Change my life. Feel more fulfilled. And for about a month or two, maybe three, I was letting it get me down. I felt lost. And when I feel lost I tend to push people away and watch Netflix and actually chill (not chilling the way the kids teens/young adults mean).

I think this time it got to me because I was having a creative loll. Everything I wrote felt exactly like everything else I’ve ever written. I wrote about unrequited love. Blah blah. Same old, same old, dealing with issues from the dark ages that will never be dealt with. Let it go already, Lauren. Adultery. Divorce. The South. I was just writing without feeling the creative bug whispering in my ear. I was just writing to try to make myself feel better. So I kept getting bogged down in the middle. I wasn’t giving it my all. I wasn’t being intentional. In fact, for awhile now I guess I hadn’t been living intentionally.

The thing is, sometimes things seem dark, and it can make aspirations feel so far away. And sometimes life can feel so overwhelming that we sort of fold into ourselves. About two weeks ago, I decided to make a habit change. I started cleaning out the kids’ rooms. I started helping more around the house. I started putting down my phone at night, not getting on the computer, and sitting down and doing something productive or fun or just meaningful with my kids. And it didn’t help me feel better at first, but it did make me think about them and how I need to give to them. It made me think about how I have this wonderful family, and how we can support and love one another. And I know it made a difference in how they think about me. And I know that it helped drag me to the surface from just-below—that’s something how taking an action can change an outcome instead of just sitting still and watching it all fly by. And slowly, I started taking that intentionality into my writing again. Very slowly. Still slowly.

I’m writing about 500 words a day plus occasional blogs now. But the next thing I need to do is make a plan for how I’m going to get where I want to with my writing. I can’t do that without taking a risk, even if that risk means failure. I don’t want to look back on my life ten years from now and have regret or hindsight about how I didn’t go for it. And it’s hard and it’s scary to put yourself out there. And I’ve never been great at that. I’ve never been great at expressing no or “I want” or taking the ears by the horn cow by the horns – whatever the eff that metaphor is– and going for it. I mean, some people in my life would say that Lauren’s “I wants” rule the roost, but not in the important ways. I haven’t been assertive in a way that is meaningful to me. I haven’t been able to get from Point A-B. I always seem to get hung up somewhere in the middle, scared or paralyzed, unable to move forward. This might be called perfectionism. But I’m ready to let go of that fear and do something intentional with my life. Happiness comes from the doing.

The thing is, I don’t want to die wondering why I never went for it. I don’t want to keep wondering why I’m not living my life in the way I should be. I just want to live it instead of watching it pass by. And I have to do that by dropping the woe-is-mes and living more intentionally.

intentional

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To Be

Shakespeare__Cobbe_portrait

There’s a famous author named Shakespeare (ever heard of him?) who wrote the words, “To be, or not to be; that is the question?” And maybe Shakespeare, in his famous play  Hamlet had it right when it came to happiness and emotions all those years ago.

This week, I read an article that Harvard psychologists think the more one tries to be happy the less satisfied or happy they are. This seems counter-intuitive, because in life we are told the harder we try the more successful we are. We see these results over and over again. If we study, we do well on a test. If we work hard and bring in business, we get a promotion. If we set a goal and work hard to achieve it we’ll succeed. Following the same formula, it would make sense to think, if we try to be happy then we will be happy.

Instead of trying to be happy, the psychologists argue that “showing up” to your emotions and allowing yourself to feel produces a happier and more fulfilled person overall. When we allow ourselves to feel our emotions without judging them, even our negative emotions, we receive important information about why we’re feeling that way. This information can help us make necessary changes for a happier life. It can help us become more assertive. It can help us get rid of negative people in our life. It can serve as a signal that something in our life needs to be changed. When we sweep our emotions under the rug, they come back to haunt us, so to speak.

One of the parts of the article that really resonated with me was the part about stopping judgment. The author states, we should stop labeling whether our emotions and thoughts are good or bad. When we have thoughts they are just thoughts, and we should let the thoughts come and go. When we have emotions, they are just emotions, and we should let those emotions come and go. The article ended with the following quote, “Ultimately, the goal is to be — rather than to be happy, which is somewhat freeing.”

The thought is freeing. Instead of struggling to find elusive happiness, just be. Feel emotions: sadness, happiness, joy, cowardice, anger. Allow your brain to receive the information that your body is trying to give you so you can make changes that will lead to a more fulfilled life. As someone who suffers from depression, I’ve struggled with my down times. I’ve told myself to snap out of it before. I’ve swept feelings under the rug. I’ve done everything. But through the years, I’ve learned that my down times come in a cycle. And they usually are there to remind me of what my up times feel life. Without sadness, we would never know what joy feels like, right? This analogy was described perfectly in the movie Inside Out. If you have not seen it, rent it. I’ve started to let myself experience those down times without further negating myself and without trying to artificially drag myself out of the deep dark ditches of depression before my body and mind are ready. And since I started realizing my feelings and thoughts are valid and not good or bad, my depressive periods have lessened. Plus, on the upside after I go through a depressive period I generally have a great period of creativity. The darkness leads to the light.

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Thinking Errors

Blame Game

Every once in a while I start to question my ability as a writer. When this happens, I usually take a break from writing. Or I procrastinate. I put my writing on the backburner as if this will solve the confidence problem I have when it comes to my writing instead of just making my confidence plummet more.

This week, my husband went out of town. He works from home. As such, he also does the majority of making dinner and cleaning the house, and he picks up the kids from camp, etc. He is basically Mr. Mom. I’m not sure what I would do without him, because he LOVES doing that sort of stuff and I don’t. I was lucky, because my niece and nephew were in town so we went over to my parent’s house most nights. Taking care of the kids and making dinner became a collaborative effort. Single parents: I have the utmost respect for you. I could not do it.

But my tween seemed to be having a hard time this week. And he was blaming everyone else besides himself. This is common among kids, tweens, and teens. I was upset by my tween’s behavior. I went to the internet to search why he always deflected blame, and why when I addressed it the whole thing blew up into a huge fight between us, ultimately ending with me feeling guilty. And then I read this great article and realized: It’s a classic thinking error. I found out from reading this article, how to challenge thinking errors when dealing with my tween. His classic thinking error is in thinking the whole world is against him. He has painted himself as the victim, instead of the aggressor. He has done this over and over again, because he has limited problem solving skills, probably because his parents (aka me and his dad) have not modeled correct problem solving skills when faced with certain issues, or we’ve been inconsistent in addressing issues when he’s in the wrong. In his way of thinking, when he hits a kid or gets into a fight it’s the other kid’s fault because that kid was “bothering” him. I challenged him yesterday. And I think it hit home. I’m trying to change the dialogue between us so he can start growing up and realizing that making himself the victim is a thinking error and won’t help him in the long run.

And in thinking about this, I started thinking about my own thinking errors. I have no time to write. I’m not a good writer. If only, I didn’t have a full time job, three kids, and 5,000 activities. I’m laying the blame for my failure to write everywhere else besides in myself.  I’m not taking responsibility for the fact that I’m ceasing to create. I’m making excuses. I’m procrastinating, when in reality I have the ability to change the dialogue. I have the ability to tell myself I can write. And I know this, because I’ve done it before even when I was busy. I made the time. I stopped making excuses.

Overcoming thinking errors is hard, because thinking errors aren’t just mistakes. Thinking errors occur over and over again, because we’ve learned to use them as coping mechanism so we don’t have to face the reality of our actions or the intensity of our emotions. People use thinking errors to try to protect themselves from getting hurt. Thinking errors are justification to ourselves when we’re doing something wrong. They serve a purpose of trying to keep our self esteem intact when our self esteem is plummeting. When we don’t take the blame, we perceive an injustice to us that’s not there. When we procrastinate, we tell ourselves that everything else is more important than what we’re meant to be working on. These are all ways to protect our ego and to protect our identity as we see it. But the problem with thinking errors is that they’re destructive. Do we really want to go through life feeling like we’re a victim of our circumstances? Do we want to make excuses or procrastinate until the opportunity doesn’t exist or we feel so hopeless about our own destiny that we throw up our hands and we cease to create, cease to strive for better? I don’t want to be that person.

I’m rewiring my thinking error about writing today. I’m telling myself that I do have time to write. I have time to blog, even if it is 5 words a day. I’m going to stop using procrastination as an excuse not to face my fears where writing is concerned. I’m going to do what I’m called to do even if I suck at it (which I don’t think I do). When we overcome thinking errors, we become more emotionally aware. We also become more capable of being happy, self-confident, and achieving success.

Do you have a thinking error that’s holding you back from achieving success, establishing friendships, or facing your own demons?

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Let’s Have a Ball

Meet season is finally over. We sprung forward this weekend, and on Sunday we enjoyed a 70 degree day with the sun staying up until almost 7. We played a game of baseball in the front yard, in which my 11 year old decided it would be fun to peg us with the ball as we ran to the (very far away) first base. This resulted in a lot of screaming and crying from the 7 and 5 year old, a few meltdowns, stern talks, and even a threat of no-dessert. Aww—the joys of parenting.

In case you noticed, I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort of blogging and scheduling my blogs. I generally try to write on Mondays, but I was a little late this week. Monday is my top day, because I post it to a discussion on a writers’ group I belong to. I enjoy reading others blogs, especially budding authors and people who I wouldn’t know or even have heard of without the group.

I’m trying to be more deliberate in my life. As you know, because I’ve blogged about it before, I have a problem with procrastination. I tend to be of the camp that if it’s due tomorrow start it at midnight the day before. I sometimes feel overwhelmed because of this, and I’m trying to stop this behavior or at least adjust it a little bit. It’s hard, and I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve this goal in my life. I’m stuck in my ways and have been stubborn for far too long.

This weekend, my son had to attend a Spring Ball. He was not happy about it. In fact, I was ruining his life. But I spoke to him, again, in the fashion of life lessons, of having to do things you don’t want to do. For a parent this is an everyday lesson, but it also led me to reflect on my own life.

You see, Caden, gets a lot of his tenacity from me. I’ve always been a mule when it comes to doing something I don’t want to do: school work, cleaning, cooking. I have a knack for passing these things on to other people. I simply refuse to do these tasks if I don’t feel like doing them. To.this.day! But I often feel guilt associated with that refusal to do tasks that are expected to me (I wouldn’t be a true Southerner without the guilt, right?) And I’m sure Caden has learned his behavior from me. On the way to the Junior Cotillion Spring Ball yesterday, he said, “Why don’t I have a choice? Why are you making me do something against my will?” Oh, lovely tween years. I can’t wait for the full blown TEEN years. But in that moment, when he asked that, I felt bad. I felt bad I signed him up and didn’t ask him. I felt bad, because he’s asserting his independence. I felt bad, because I remembered how I felt when I was forced to do things I did not want to as a child. Powerless. And no one likes to feel powerless.

Dance 1

But it was just one day. Just one dance. And I knew he’d survive. I knew, from the experience of the last dance, that he’d even enjoy it. It’s a good lesson to learn. Sometimes, quite a lot of times actually, as adults we are forced to do things we’d rather not do. And somehow we learn to stop complaining and just get it done, and sometimes we find some fun in it. Even my son learned how to do that at the Ball I made him go to. Smile just a little bit. Have a good time, and realize the sun will still be up when you get home and they’ll be plenty of time to play outside, at least for this brief moment of his life where he still wants to.

Dance 2

The Flaw of Perfectionism

This weekend, I sat on the bench and watched my son compete in a gymnastics meet in Roswell, GA. He’s been in gymnastics for years, and he’s good. He’s generally a hard worker. But he missed about five months last year due to a dislocated shoulder, and he still holds himself to the standards of the boys who are in their second year as level 5s.

He did well at the meet. He messed up on the floor, and that was his first event, so I think that led him down a dark wormhole in his mind. But after rings, he started crying. He was so upset. He scored a 10.1 on rings (not bad by any means), but he felt like he should have been scored higher. And he hyper-focused on it, getting more and more upset. At one point, he even walked off the floor. I tried to calm him down, but he wanted to be by himself. By the time he made it to his last event, high bars, he’d calmed himself down and he managed to pull an 11.2, first place for the event.

 

Watching him struggle was hard for me, and I recognized myself in him. How many of us quit when it gets tough? How many of us quit when we feel like our best is not our best? I sat and watch my son beat himself up, because his rings weren’t perfect and that’s hard for a parent to see. Mainly, because he inherited this trait from me and probably from the way we parent.

I’ve done a lot of reading over the years on perfectionism, because having struggled with it I know it can be debilitating. The thing about perfectionism is that it doesn’t spur you on to bigger and better things, it actually holds you back from being all you can be. It takes all the positives of a motivated individual and turns them into negatives and all the what if’s pop up: what if I fail? what if I don’t win? what if? what if? until the what ifs make the person stop doing what they love. The “what ifs” seem to become the driving factor in making the perfectionist feel trapped by their own perceived lack of achievement.

I haven’t been writing lately, and I know this is from self-doubt and perfectionism cropping into my mind. I haven’t been putting the time in, because I still don’t know if I’m good enough. But doing what I love should be good enough for me. I tried to emphasize this to my oldest son over the weekend. “You love gymnastics, right? Then keep working hard, and don’t get so bent out of shape over one meet.” This is a hard lesson to learn, and it’s a hard lesson for me to teach. I’m sure he’s seen me give up when things get tough, or when I don’t think the writing is just right, or when life gets too overwhelming

So how do we overcome perfectionism?

We need to teach our children that good enough is good enough. Winning isn’t everything. Hard work matters, but it’s okay to fail. In fact, learning how to cope with failure leads us to success later on and gives us the tools to know how to succeed.  We need to stop being afraid to let our children fail.

Celebrate victories. When my son didn’t do as well as he wanted in the meet, he said that the first place on high bar didn’t even matter. I told him he was nuts. He had scored 1st out of 61 kids. That was something! I told him not to focus on the negative, but to look at the overall picture, to learn what he could work on for the next week, and to look at the fact that he tried hard and did well.  I pointed out that he came in 5th overall in his age group (top 20 out of the 6o kids), and that last time we’d done this meet he had come in 9th. I showed him his progress. We celebrated his victory with a trip to Starbucks, and as the day went on he became excited about winning his gold on high bar and the feelings about the rings began to dissipate.

Love and respect yourself. Perfectionist tend to be mean to themselves. Self-blame. Self-critical. They’re often meaner to themselves than anyone else in their life. This leads to depression. Love yourself and all your flaws, and learn how to let go of the need for perfection.

Don’t give up. Persistence pays off. As a writer, this is something I’ve had to learn. Giving up gets you nowhere. Learn how to roll with the punches without assigning blame to yourself or making yourself feel guilty for failures, work hard, and keep at it.

Perfectionism is something I’ll have to work on controlling for the rest of my life. I’ll fight the feelings that come with it, and it seems like my son will too. But I know with mindfulness, I can let go and learn how to be happy with my best.


 

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