Have you read Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson? It's been around since 1997. For those of you who have not read it, it is made up of 100 chapters of pure gold. I wish I could cram all the lessons I have taken from those chapters into this one post, but obviously I can't so I'll focus on a few for now.
Worrying and Achieving
I read this book last year and have re-read it multiple times. I have a copy on my phone and I read a chapter whenever I can to remind myself to take it easy. You see, by nature I am wound pretty tight. I am very anxious and often worried and I find it hard to relax. I have always believed that I had to be that way in order to be a high achiever. To let go and "take it easy" would be to accept lower standards of myself. I no longer believe that to be true. There is a chapter entitled "Let Go of the Idea that Gentle, Relaxed People Can't be Superachievers." Carlson points out that it actually takes "an enormous amount of energy" to live fearfully and frantically (as I so often have) and that spending that energy limits your potential and enjoyment for life. How true is that? I spend way too much time planning and worrying and not nearly enough time just "doing." You only have so much energy to spread around, so it's important that it goes only towards what is truly important. I once read that "worrying is like a rocking in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it won't get you anywhere." Now I make an honest attempt to spend my energy on productive activities and less on worrying.
Life is Not an Emergency
Another big take away for me was the idea that life is not an emergency. I am so very guilty of rushing around, trying to fit too much into a day, acting like everything is urgent and needs my immediate attention. I constantly have this thought in my mind that I will relax when I finish everything that I need to do. And guess what? That NEVER happens. You never finish every single thing that you could do. Your "inbox" will never be completely empty. But the truth is, most of your "inbox" can wait. Because when I make assumptions about "finishing" everything and relaxing later, guess who suffers? My children. My husband. My friends who never hear from me. When I let life's little details get the best of me, I lose out on the only truly important parts of life. So now I have to set boundaries for myself. I won't clean past a certain time of day, for example. Or I will spend time playing with my girls before I'll do anything else, because if somehow nothing else gets done, then I know I at least did the most important thing I could do that day. I no longer put the "urgent" (but mostly unimportant) in front of the important, less urgent tasks in my life.
Happiness and Enjoying Life
Here is another epiphany I had while reading the book for the first time. I wrote this last summer...
I had an "aha" moment while reading "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" (one of many actually) and I thought I would share. It was about being a perfectionist. The nature of perfectionism is to always focus on what is wrong instead of appreciating how things are. I find myself being that way often. I felt like I was always waiting for something. When this happens, then I'll be happy. When we're out of debt, then I'll be happy. When the house is clean, then I'll be happy. I'm not alone on this, right?! Well, guess what I found? Things are never perfect. And the longer I put off being happy, the more life I was going to miss. I'm happy now. Despite all the bad. Because I'm finally able to focus on all the good.
All the good had always been there. When I made it my focus, however, everything seemed to change for the better. My circumstances hadn't changed at all, but my mindset had. AND THAT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
Your life has so much good in it. When you strive for absolute perfection, all you can see is what needs to be better. Try appreciating how wonderful things are now. It doesn't mean you can't strive for continuous improvement, but don't spend your whole life focusing on it.
“The need for perfection and the desire for inner tranquility conflict with each other.”
If you seem to only be able to see the bad aspects of your life, try keeping a gratitude journal. Every morning, write down three things that you are thankful for and do not repeat anything from day to day. This practice trains your mind to look for the good around you. It will also decrease your desire to complain as you will start to see how much positive there really is.
Even today (the day after I wrote most of this), I spent too much of the day in my head overthinking and stressing over unimportant details. I need constant reminders to take a deep breath and relax. Remember...all is well. Everything that needs to get done will get done. Everything will be OK. And when I realize I'm failing, I have to remember to take it lightly and not be too hard on myself. If I think "There I go again!" to myself when I'm stressing, I take it much better than spewing an inner dialogue of negativity to myself. We are all human. We all can improve. It doesn't help anyone to be overly self-critical on top of it.
One step at a time.