Monthly Archives: May 2012

Boundaries and Trust

I’ve realized in the last week that I desperately need boundaries.

 

Not so much to keep other people and their stuff out, because honestly, I’m pretty good about not worrying too much about what other people think.

 

But I do need boundaries to know when to stop. To know when I’ve done enough on a project. When I’ve added enough projects to the stack. To know that no matter how interesting something is, how much I care about a topic, I simply can’t do any more than I’m doing.

 

I have a notebook to keep track of projects, and what the next steps are for each. And then I make a list of steps for the day. Once those steps are done, I know I can stop. And I’m learning to stop there.

 

Sure, there might be time to do more. But I’m finding slowly, painfully, that if I just go and go and go, I hit exhaustion and overwhelm.

 

In avoiding that pain, I’m discovering joy. Lightness in feeling that there’s spaciousness. That not every moment needs to be filled with doing, or planning, or worrying.

 

That really, there’s only so much I can do, and at some point I need to trust. Trust myself that I’ve done enough. Trust the people I’m working with that they can do some of these things, too. Trust that my ideas are going to work, and I don’t have to keep tweaking and retweaking them.

 

To trust the systems I’ve put into place. To trust that not everything has to be perfect. That good enough really is good enough, and that last 10% of perfection just may not be worth the stress.

 

And I guess maybe that does get back into the realm of boundaries against other people’s desires and expectations. I’ve spent any number of years picking up extra projects, making sure that things are done just so, that stopping may be an oddness.

 

It’s not anyone’s fault that people expect me to act a certain way, because that’s how I’ve always acted. Now I’ll need to figure how to reconfigure those expectations.

 

Something else for the list. But not, necessarily, for this week.

 

 

The How of Happiness

I’ve got a shelf of science fiction/fantasy books that pretty much come down to the battle between technology and magic. I think I love them so much because that’s how humans are. We know things that are common sense. We know technology works. But we still long for magic. Things that are too odd, we shy away from, even if we desperately want to  believe in Tinkerbell or doors in the back of old wardrobes.

And that’s how I tend to feel about self-help books. Anyone who tells me to focus on materializing something into my life is likely to get a raised eyebrow. And no matter how much I want to believe there’s an easy, mystical way out of something, I can hear my 11th grade physics teacher laughing loudly in my head.

Which is why The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubromirsky makes me so… well, happy.

She’s a professor of psychology and she’s spent years looking at the research data as to what percentage of our total happiness is under our control, and what things we can do to raise our happiness levels within that percentage. The book isn’t filled with vague feel good advice and suggestions, but rather the results of studies and experimental data.

She offers a specific range of strategies that have proven to work to raise happiness levels in her test subjects, with the caveat that not everything will work for every person, and to find the techniques that fit your personality.

The first activity is practicing gratitude. Conveniently enough, that’s a practice I’ve already been thinking about making more a part of my life.

First off, I’m really very, very lucky. Just in when and where I was born, I’m lucky. I’m pretty sure neither my mother nor I would have survived if that situation had played out 100 years ago.

I’m lucky that both of my parents loved me, and encouraged education and my creativity.

Was my childhood perfect? Nope. Was it pretty freaking amazing? Yes, actually.

Was it better than the childhood of a whole lot of other kids? Considering that my mother worked in one aspect or another of things like Child Protective Services for a good section of my life, I’d have to say Yes, it was so much better that so many other childhoods.

Is my life now perfect? Nope, but it’s pretty amazing.

I’ve already written about how the act of noticing things is the start to adventure. Realizing the adventures you’re having, slowing down, paying attention.

I started writing the Explorer’s Logs to keep track of the adventures, even the little ones, that are so easy to let slip through the cracks, so that at the end of the month or the year I don’t look back and think “wow, I didn’t really do anything, did I?”

But I did. And you did, too. And I think keeping track is the first step to realizing how much fun we’re having, what adventures and magic and wonder are already in our lives.

So, a renewed commitment to the Explorer’s Logs, and to tracking gratitude as well. Because happiness is its own adventure and a land we’re all interested in exploring. Even if we can’t get there through the back of a wardrobe.

The Quality of Play

This week I’ve had my scientist’s labcoat on, examining the finer qualities of play. I’d never really thought of play as something that had qualities – you either did it, or you didn’t. There was free time to play, or you could squeeze it in, or there just wasn’t.

But as I’ve been running my experiments, I’ve realized there’s an issue of quality as well.

When I’m stressed and add play time, it’s fun, but there’s an edge to it, almost a manic quality.  If I have long enough, the play itself seems to take that edge off.

But if I’m relaxed first, the play is more joyous. Lighter. The flow is easier.

So if play brings joy, and being relaxed brings deeper play, what do I need to do to be more relaxed?

Boundaries. Routines. Systems.

Now that seems crazy. I need to have work done, in order to be relaxed?

Maybe it isn’t crazy. The reality of the situation is that I’m an adult. And I have responsibilities and commitments. And I’m not the type to just toss it all in the air and go party.

I need ways to know that my responsibilities are met, that my commitments are in tune, and then I can relax.

Boundaries help make sure that I don’t get over-committed.

Systems help me keep track of my responsibilities.

Routines help me process my work as quickly as possible, so there’s more play time.

And if all of this becomes routine, the process becomes easier… and in the end, more relaxed.

Therefore work leading to play. But work in a mindful way, not just grinding stuff out. I foresee future experiments on mindful work enhancing quality AND quantity of play. Hooray, experiments!

Explorers’ Log #5 – Depletion and Renewal

The need to spend the last few weeks recovering from the music fest and the gala and graduation was overshadowed by the need to be at full speed on the next event, Tux and Tails. This is the fundraiser for our local animal charity, and helps get us through those times that grants don’t come in.

In short, there’s a fair amount of pressure. And we’re exhausted. We’ve been talking about taking breaks, doing more fun things. Branching out into different, exciting projects…but by the time we actually have time to do anything more than talk, we’re out of juice.

Completely depleted and drained.

Part of the problem is that we’ve over-estimated our capacity. Part is that we feel like we have no choice other than to just slog on. Between work things and other commitments we care about, we’ve gotten stuck in the trap of endless lists and deadlines. And once you’re there, it’s hard to climb out.

So, we’re starting put more emphasis on our rest periods. On stopping work. Figuring out what things make the most impact, cranking them out, and then being done. Moving on with the rest of our lives.

To that effect, this we had two lovely dinners on the patio. I found sheet music to our wedding song and have been mangling it one bar at a time. We signed up for a summer festival of movies and a folk music festival later in the summer. We might even start going to dance classes.

We’re a long way from recharged. But I’m beginning to hope that we will be, and to believe it.

 

Pretending to be a Pterodactyl is Good Business.

I will be the first to admit that too often I let work slide into non-work time. I’ll still insist that it’s essential that just a few more things get done. But at least I’m aware of the problem.

Yesterday I played airplane in the cat food aisle of the grocery store. And sang silly songs in the car. And waltzed in the parking lot of the bank.

Play is a fine thing. So is silliness.

But… does play only happen when all systems are go? When I’m already happy and everything is running smoothly? When it’s easy to let a good mood continue on, and get caught up in joy?

What about the other way around? Can play reboot a less than stellar day? Instead of good things happen, therefore happy, therefore playful, can it go playtime, therefore happy, therefore good things?

Or even if play doesn’t magically make good things happen, can the act of mindfully being playful cause enough of shift in mood to create a matching shift in perspective, where perhaps what was a bad day is at least tolerable?

And, could that shift of perspective also lead to a lessening of tension and stress and therefore reduce the likelihood of something ordinary getting blown up out of proportion? And transforming from just a thing, to a BAD thing?

Then, could taking time to play, even if I don’t really feel much like playing, be as much of a preventative/prophylactic against bringing on unnecessary grief and hardship, that play is not just a reasonable use of time, but a necessary part of my physical and mental well being?

And that playtime is possibly an investment in my business time? Because my business and my clients depend on me being at my best and most creative. And if this is correct, playtime helps to keep that level of creativity high.

Therefore, neglecting joy and play and fun is sabotaging my business and plans and my best work for my clients.

So, in order to do that best work… quite literally, GAME ON.

Joy and Passion and Work

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot lately about happiness. Something that keeps coming up for me is how odd it is, and hard that we so often spend the majority of our lives at jobs we don’t always enjoy.

And how hard it is that so much of the time, there’s not much to be done about it.

There’s mortgage and tuition and utilities and groceries and all those other things. And trying to save any money, and wondering if there will ever be enough in emergency savings to put money into an adventure fund.

I get that. Boy howdy, do I get that.

So the idea of chucking it all, doing something that I might enjoy more than my regular job, is terrifying.

No matter how much the idea of waking up excited to go to work excites me, I just can’t justify the risk.

Which is why Chris Guillebeau’s new book, The $100 Startup, is so interesting to me.

He talks a lot about finding that sweet spot between your passion and skills, and what people will pay for, and the importance of starting up sooner rather than later, and a lot of useful things.

However, that’s not what’s tickling the back of my head. The part that’s really sticking with me, the part that’s making me go back for seconds and thirds, are the stories of all the people who figured out what their passion was, and pursued it while hedging their bets. They didn’t feel the need to take out huge loans, they often started their projects on the side, some even kept their day jobs long past when they could have jumped full time to their own projects.

And still, they found a way to do something they loved.  They found happiness and meaning in their work, without the huge risk.

The book is filled with specific case examples, and at this point my mind is ticking away on projects. Which isn’t exactly a jump to a new career, but a good start.

 

We talk about a lot of things here…

Being gentle with ourselves, and the importance of small adjustments towards alignment.

Experiments in happiness and what does adventure mean, anyway?

What can happen when you say "Yes" and what might be waiting outside your front door.

And of course, why pretending to be a pterodactyl is good business.

 

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