Does This Optimism Make Me Look Positive?

I think this week was a reality check. I never really thought about how hard it would be to change my ways. I joke around that I’m a total old lady — complete with a get-off-my-lawn attitude — but now I’m realizing how much of that is true.

I’m a bit set in my ways. Even when I’m consciously keeping this blog on the back burner in my mind, I find myself slipping back to negativity and incessant worrying.

Most of the time, I win. But sometimes, I find myself thinking just the way I’m determined to move past — they’re thoughts without optimism, without authority or self-confidence.

I know I have those things. On some level, I’ve been coasting on the minimal amount of effort. And as someone who takes comfort in structure, the structure of my negativity-filled life looks almost appealing from the outside.

What could possibly be appealing about re-listing the negatives in your head, you think? It’s familiar. It’s known.

I have known I am my own worst enemy for a long time. It’s so easy to internalize events that may have nothing to do with you, and apply them to your own self-worth. And when you do this often enough, it feels normal. You internalize it, make it this ideology — and you don’t realize how false it is. For all you know, it is the truth. It’s just how you exist. There is no problem — there is only existing.

But I thought I was past this part of my life, this stifling viewpoint, or at least, that I would always recognize when I succumbed to its mantras once more.

I thought I’d thrown away my negative ideology and embraced the truth — that my life is fantastic, that I have so many supportive family members and friends and loved people in my life — but that’s not always what happens.

Examining the truth in your life changes everything. Suddenly, you’re faced with this new ideology that makes you laugh at your old ways. You see how wrong you were — and how hopeful the future can be.

But adapting to this new lifestyle is not so easy.

You would think that the positivity would be  primarily comforting — but its most prominent characteristic is its unfamiliarity.

It’s like trying on a new dress for the first time, really. You want to like it…but it’s so different. And no matter how many people compliment you, or even when you see yourself in a mirror once in a while and smile at the fit — it still takes a while. It doesn’t quite feel like yours until you’ve worn it a lot.

I’m going to wear out this positivity until it’s mine. I just have to keep trying.

Day 7 Mantra: Wear out your positivity. It might feel weird at first, and that’s okay.

Also, it is totally impossible not to smile when listening to this jam:

Getting My Three Cs In

The first few things I neglect when I’m stressed are chilling time, cleaning time, and cooking time. Today, I made time for all three.

Chilling

I caught up with a girlfriend on life and school and old reading favorites. We were talking about childhood faves, and she brought up Margaret Peterson Haddix, whose novel Running Out of Time was my absolute favorite and inspired me to write my own historical fiction and sci fi tales. I’d never actually met anyone else who loved Haddix’s works as a child, and it was mind-blowing to think about all those great memories curled up with her books! We vowed to read and discuss The Shadow Children series over the next winter.

I’m pretty sure that was the first dark series I read as a kid. I loved it and wanted more!

Cooking

I roasted ome stuffed red bell peppers with black beans, rice and cheddar. It makes me want to stuff roasted red peppers with falafel…I think the textures would be really superb.

Cleaning

A clean desk always makes me feel productive, regardless of my level of productivity. I made a cup of hot chocolate and lit a candle (because why not? Now the air smells like coffee — life is always good when the air smells like coffee.)

I’m happy with today.

Day 6 Mantra: Make time for the three Cs (chilling, cooking, and cleaning.)

Side note: I found this quote from the magnificent Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half, in which I cracked up because I found this quote:

As a kid, Allie Brosh loved dogs. LOVED them. She loved them so much that as a ten-year-old writing a letter to her future self, dogs were her main concern:

“Dear 25 year old…Do you still like dogs? What is your favourite dog? Do you have a job training dogs? Is murphy [the family pet] still alive? What is your favourite food?? Are mom and dad still alive?”

I totally get it. Dog lover life.

Confessions of a Control Freak: Sometimes, I’m a Hypocrite

Today is Day 5 of the Worry-Free Challenge.

I didn’t post at all yesterday. I’m not going to b.s. it — I wasn’t having a very good day, and sometimes, it’s awfully hard to practice what you preach.

Refocusing today has been good.

Day 4 Mantra: Make your positive thoughts a reality.

Day 5 Mantra: Forgive yourself when it’s not possible.

I’m not going to make excuses, but just for a laugh — here are some of the worst excuses compiled by CBS News on why people missed work.

 

The Pursuit of Happiness is Futile (It’s More Optimistic Than You Think)

Lucille Ball quote via incompletemagazine.com
Lucille Ball quote via incompletemagazine.com

Somewhere along this past year or so, I felt like I lost a part of myself. I could never put my finger on exactly when this happened, but this loss — my mojo, my juju, my passion — chipped away at me slowly.

Some days, I missed it more than others. Most of the time, I tried to stay so busy that I didn’t feel its loss at all. It’s hard to be introspective when you’re hustling and studying constantly.

I love learning. I’ve always thrived in school. It was my thing, the way other kids has sports and dance. I immersed myself in reading and knowing all the right answers. School gave me this kind of power, at a young age, that I could never achieve in any kind of (coordination needed) sport.

Yet, I couldn’t understand why this schedule was making me completely miserable. I was doing well in my classes and enjoyed the subject material — but every day felt the same. I felt like a total drone. I’d felt like I’d lost my sense of purpose — and it felt like  more than senioritis. I didn’t know how to deal with falling out of love with school.

It was burnout at its finest.

Now that I’m taking some time to reflect (truly reflect) on what brings me contentment. I’ve always chased after success, thinking success is going to make me happy (spoiler alert: it won’t!) or at least catapult me to the next level of contentment.

I’ve realized some things, chief among them: the pursuit of happiness is futile. I may be a realist, but I don’t think this is necessarily a pessimistic outlook. The fact is, life just happens, and you’re not so much pursuing it as you are just flying by the seat of your pants, trying to adjust before life shifts and you have to deal with the Next Thing.

Maybe I should rephrase this. Chasing after what might make you happy is like a lottery ticket. You don’t really know. But the things that make you happy right now? Those are a sure bet. And I’m not talking about the instant gratification of someone liking your photo on social media, or even the joy a sale at your fave shop (New York & Company, I’m looking at you…) can bring.

Confession of a control freak here: I’m all about finding a path. Toss me some sort of Life Plan and I get all excited about how bright my future will be. But life doesn’t work like that — the prospects of a future might excite me, but it’s so important to stand back and take notice of the good in your life right now before life takes me to a different place.

Day 4 Mantra: Don’t wait for happiness — experience contentment right now.

Little parts of today that made me happy:

  • Finding a quiet corner of the cafe to read with a cup of coffee
  • Strolling down the street, enjoying the last bit of good weather before winter settles in
  • Bumping into a friend
  • Listening to a thought-provoking podcast (I’m binge-listening to Radiolab, and today’s episode was Translation)
  • Inhaling the scent of fresh laundry
  • Journaling
  • Cleaning my room
  • Lighting a coffee-scented candle
  • Watching the sky turn dark
  • Gulping fresh water
  • Flopping on my bed and taking a moment to stare at my ceiling

What made you happy today? What are some things that ground you and reignite your mojo?

 

Snooze Away Your Stress

Do I still have bedhead? It might be because I slept for about 15 hours today.

Whoops.

Normally, I try not to sleep in, but I’d been feeling run down and like my batteries were out of juice lately.

All too often, I think sleep is the first priority to drop when people are overwhelmed with work and other obligations. It’s so important to hit the “magic” seven to eight hours of sleep daily. At least for me, I know I turn into a total grump (complete with “get off my lawn!” attitude.)

So for me, getting enough sleep is vital. Quality pillow time = quality me time. I’m lucky enough to not have a) young children b) pets c) pesky neighbors d) jackhammers (select one or all of the above!) waking me up in the morning.

Day 3 Mantra: Sleep is sacred.

Here are some of my favorite ways to optimize sleep:

Step Off Your (Metaphoric) Mountain

It’s easy to say “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but sometimes, my problems feel gigantic. They’re anything but small in my mind.

It’s hard to deal with a mountain of a problem when you can’t see the top, the peak of success. All too often, the molehill-sized problems in our lives look like mountains. But we’re simply viewing them from the bottom, and from the bottom, it’s hard to get perspective.

I think it’s similar to the way in which after you’ve faced a Difficult Life Challenge, some mountain of life’s issues, you emerge stronger. Admittedly, sometimes you’re not even scaling the problem, not even moving forward — it’s all you can do to just hang on, knuckles clenched, gasping for breath and praying that you’ll get through this. Those times are hard, but on the mountain, they’re just one small part of the bigger picture.

But for me, during those moments, it sometimes feels like time stops. It’s like the world is frozen in place. Anxiety and worries can weigh you down from catapulting over this monster of a mountain.

If only I could ditch these heavy worries, you think. Then I could finally scale the mountain. And if you ditch a worry or two, sure, you feel better immediately — but you still feel the need to cling to this mountain. Even if you optimize your environment to be as worry-free as possible, there is still something there. You’re not quite free.

Now, hold up a second.

What if I told you to just step off the mountain? You know, the one that’s practically running your life because it’s so ginormous?

You’d think I was crazy, right? Like, there’s no way in hell I’m stepping off a freaking mountain. I must hold on and grip it until my fingers ache deep into my bones. I must have it become the focus of my life — because without it, I would not exist. I would fail — I would fall off the mountain. How else can I succeed at this challenge if I don’t think about it constantly? (This is my train of thought more than I care to admit, but here I am, admitting it, because I think it is really important to talk about worry and anxiety in a way that’s accessible. In a way that feels real. This blog is not a psychological self-help book. I’m not qualified to do any of that. But I do hope you can read this, and think of yourself – or a loved one, or a friend – and try to understand where these thoughts are rooted and how to acknowledge and move past them.)

This is how it feels when people tell me to stop worrying about whatever challenge I’m facing. It’s not that I believe worrying will help me (I do recognize, on some level, that it is detrimental to my goals and my health.) It’s just — at the time, it is the center of my life. The mountain feels like the pillar of me. In a way, it feels like a part of me, a foundation.

Here’s the kicker: I see the mountain as the Challenge. I see clinging to the Challenge as a way to survive, as a way to hang on to the hope that I will scale it.

But the mountain is not the Challenge. The mountain is only the Worry.

Wait, what?!

It took me a long time to realize that I was not clinging to the Challenge. I was actually clinging to the Worry. When I faced an exam, I thought the insurmountable height of the Challenge was paralyzing me. But I had prepared, studied my butt off, and worked hard. It wasn’t the Challenge that gave me anxiety — it was the Worry, perceived as the Challenge. It’s not that I can’t do it — I’m just perceiving my worries as part of the problem I need to take on.

And this is hardly ever true. I’m more than qualified to tackle anything life throws at me, and I’ve proven this again and again academically, socially and in my career. But this separation between what I need to overcome to succeed (the Challenge) and what I need to overcome in smaller increments (the Worry) is crucial. You don’t need to do both things at once. You don’t even have to think about both things. Success in both will come eventually. You just need to step off your mountain and realize the worry is a separate entity from the challenges in your life.

It’s only now that I’m slowly realizing this shift in perspective is so integral to my life. Relabeling what I struggle with — hardly ever the actual Challenge — as struggling with the Worry instead is a huge step. It’s not easy. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes you might screw up a little.

But it’s okay. You can climb mountains.

Day 2 Mantra: Scale back your perspective.

Will this matter a week from now? Will this matter a year from now? Are you looking at the mountain as the Challenge? Jump off from your worries. Breathe.

Confessions of a Control Freak: How I’m Renouncing My Ways

I’ll be the first admit it: I have a hard time relaxing. Ever.

You could stick me on a beach in paradise and I’d still be thinking: What if I forgot to lock my hotel door? What if I was supposed to do an assignment before I went on vacation? What if…?

This stream of worrying never shuts up.

Even when I’m hanging out with friends, I tend to be a little high-strung: I want to know all the details: where, when, how long and who’s going to be there. I’m detail-oriented, and that makes me great at getting the scoop in journalism, but as a person — sometimes it makes me a little depressed. It’s hard to admit that. I really enjoy making other people happy, and I tend to keep my worries inside. I’ve always thought — I can’t help it, I’m just a private person — and no one wants to know that I deal with this.

But part of the scary part of worrying yourself to death is the feeling that you are so alone. And truth is, you’re not. People struggle with worrying, anxiety and even depression all the time. Being alone couldn’t be further from the truth. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in this repetition of worries. At first, the worrying is relaxing, soothing, like a repeated prayer. As if repeating the words enough times will make your problem go away.

Worry smothers you, makes you less likely to reach out, makes you feel like you’ve lost your connection to others.

But that’s not true. It just appears to be true. And worrying about problems won’t make them go away — only your attitude can help you deal.

I have a hard time realizing the world won’t end if one new person shows up at a party — or someone who’s promised to show ditches instead. I have a hard time with standing my ground for fear that people will disagree with what I say (um, haters gonna hate anyway?!)

On the outside, I feel like I really  have my life together, but on the inside, I struggle every day with worrying and trying to project happiness into my life.

It’s time for me to stop this. For real.

I’ve been a total control freak every day of my life, but it’s time to stop worrying and start living.

That’s why I’m beginning my own 40 Days of the Worry-Free Challenge. I’m going to identify exactly what is making me stressed, tackle it, and move on with my life. To hold myself accountable, I’m going to talk about it here. No filter. If I have a bad day, I’m not going to b.s. it — everyone has a bad day every so often, but we need to unite to cope with them. I don’t expect every day to be completely worry-free (after all, I’m trying to undo 21 years of social conditioning and anxiety here), but I do expect to be able to deal with it better at the end of this experiment.

Why the sudden change of heart? After all, I’ve managed to successfully live like this my whole life. Why now?

I finish my undergraduate college education at SUNY New Paltz on December 16th, 2014. This is exactly 40 days from now. I’ve heard it takes a month to form a habit — but just to be sure, I’ll do so for 40 days. There is no running from this — I’m always on the move, but doing something every day and actually (gasp!) talking about it openly and honestly is bound to make something happen.

I’m going to blog every day about stress management, my life and things I’m learning along the way. Taking care of yourself is such an important priority — but it’s never been my main one. Now, it has to be.

 Mantra for Day 1: Just do it.

I’m taking a cue from Nike here. I tend to obsess over absolutely everything I’m doing. Eggs for breakfast? Maybe I should’ve had yogurt. Handed in the essay in Times New Roman 11.5 point font to fit within the page limit? Maybe I should’ve left it at 12, after all.

Seriously, it gets that silly. For a person who prides herself on her logic, my worries have no logic. In the long run, none of these things matter. Today, I’m focusing on not second-guessing myself and simply flying through my to-do list. Just do it.

I believe I can. I’ll report back tomorrow.

Stress less and smile more,

April