Let’s Each Pick a Theme!

A much more attainable self-improvement plan!

One of my favorite bloggers, Anju, who writes This Labyrinth I Roam, was reading my blog recently, and noted my general disdain for New Years Resolutions. I haven’t done them in years, because I hate starting off the year by setting myself up for failure.

According to this article, based on a survey, the success rate for resolutions is 35 percent. I’m guessing it’s even less than that. Would you really answer honestly to some random surveyor when you know you’ve been eating snickers bars instead of salads as resolved?

In response to my resolution aversion, Anju sent me a link to this wonderful 6-minute YouTube video that actually gives me hope for a more attainable self-improvement plan.

I highly recommend that you take a moment to watch it yourself, but in a nutshell, the concept of themes was presented, and here’s how it works.

If you want to make some positive life changes, rather than make a resolution, set yourself a theme. Instead of an inflexible goal with hard data points, such as losing x number of inches around your waist by the end of this calendar year, make it a broad theme such as “Health”. Who cares about hard data? Self-improvement is the ultimate goal, and there are a variety of ways to reach that goal. Some of them may not even have occurred to you yet. Allow room for you to trend upward in a whole host of ways.

At various times throughout the day, month, or year, you will find yourself at a crossroads that will require you to make a decision. If you have a theme such as Health, and one branch of that path is healthier than the other, you will be more apt to take that healthier path if you have that overarching theme in mind. You might do several different types of healthy things in the course of that journey, setting yourself up for an upward trend of success without undue pressure, rather than feeling like a failure if you don’t meet a specific target.

So pick a nice broad theme, such as “Adventure” or “Gratitude” or “Family” or “Learning” or “Transition”. Choose something that resonates with you; something that you want more or less of. That theme will then adapt with you, based on circumstances, and no guilt will be involved. You’ll start noticing more opportunities that relate to your theme, and hopefully you’ll take advantage of them.

Isn’t that a nifty idea? And the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to last a year like a resolution. You can have a theme that lasts a season, such as “The Winter of Compassion”.

After giving this concept much thought, I have decided that my themes for the foreseeable future will be Health and Boundaries. I have been pursuing better health ever since I got married and realized that I have a lot to live for. I’m really proud of my progress so far, and would like to continue that progress. So I suspect that theme will be with me for quite some time.

The other theme, Boundaries, is something I’ve been working on sporadically for a lifetime, but I’ve noticed since moving to the Pacific Northwest that my desire for boundaries is often challenged. These challenges cause me a great deal of confusion and self-doubt, and frankly, I’m getting tired of it.

It’s healthy to set boundaries. In the long run, the people around you will appreciate them. It’s nice to have a clear map of what is acceptable in someone’s life and what is not. For example, please don’t smoke in my house. That’s a simple one. Another one is please don’t spontaneously call me after 9 pm unless someone is dying. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

But here in the passive aggressive Pacific Northwest, people would much rather die than be perceived as being pushy or hurting someone’s feelings. Heaven forfend you actually speak up and assert yourself. Most folks out here are hardwired to bite their tongue, bottle things up, and not make waves. So when you violate someone’s boundaries here, rather than making those boundaries clear so that you can have better encounters moving forward, they’ll tolerate the intrusion, resent you for it, and then most likely distance themselves from you, and you’ll never understand why.

Here’s a prime example: Since I’ve been pursuing health, I’ve been trying to avoid eating sugar. Culturally, especially on holidays, people love to make cookies and cakes and the like, and it’s assumed that you are then obligated to eat these things, even if you don’t want them.

But I truly don’t want them. I do not resist these temptations easily. Overall, I think it’s much kinder to thank someone in advance and set the boundary rather than have them waste their time and money every year making me a fruitcake that I’m only going to either throw away or re-gift. That way everyone is on the same page, I’m not forced to keep track of my lies, and we can all focus on spending time with one another instead.

Also, I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the re-gift concept under these circumstances, because wouldn’t I just be passing the involuntary weight gain on to someone else? What right do I have to do that? And I hate wasting food, so throwing these things out pains me.

And yet a Pacific Northwest friend of mine is convinced that this kind of open communication is rude. He’d rather take in all the chocolate and cheesecake and smile gratefully, in order to let someone maintain a tradition that they may actually find to be a hassle in the first place. You’ll never know if you don’t communicate. They might even delight in helping you achieve your goal, because that’s how true friends are.

My friend, by smiling and remaining silent, then has to resist the temptation of eating the stuff and take the time to dispose of it one way or another, all so he won’t insult someone who probably wouldn’t be insulted in the first place if open, honest, polite conversations had taken place. Personally, I’d be annoyed if I spent all that time and effort to bring you joy, and then discovered I could have much more easily done so, year after year, by bringing you some fresh asparagus from my garden. Trust me when I say that my outspoken self is rarely hit with the sentence, “Why didn’t you say so?”

Isn’t open communication better for all concerned? You don’t have to be rude or pushy about it. My friend claims that by setting boundaries, I’m trying to dictate the behavior of other people. Poppycock and codswallop, I say. I’m not telling people they can’t bake cookies for themselves or anyone else. Knock yourself out. I’m just saying that while I appreciate the thought, please don’t make any for me.

Because I know me. I’ll eat them, feel sick afterward because I’m no longer used to sugar, and beat myself up for the rest of the day. So, yeah, this is a boundary for me, and I don’t think that those who truly love me will be offended if politely asked to respect it. Feel free to party with the Cookie Monster as much as you like. No judgment here. I’ll still love you. But in the mean time, let’s both treat each other with consideration.

If you think you have to be walked over in order maintain a friendship, then deep down you already know that you’re not being loved.

True story. I know a couple who ate cranberry sauce every thanksgiving for decades. They both hated it. They were only choking the stuff down because they each assumed that the other one liked it, and they were trying to be polite. What a weight was lifted off them both when they finally actually spoke up!

I am sick and tired of this vague, passive-aggressive fog that floats over this part of the country and makes it harder to form solid friendships. I’m tired of being confused to the point of feeling like the East Coast turd in the West Coast punchbowl.

I plan on embracing ways to define my boundaries. I will do so in a courteous and loving manner whenever possible, of course, and I will acknowledge the kind sentiments and cherish the people behind them. I will do this because I believe that in the end, healthy, sincere communication saves everyone a lot of time, energy and drama, and that is a gift to all those concerned. (And if my friend doesn’t like my new theme, then he better buckle up, because this is going to be a bumpy ride for him.)

I also want to stop struggling with saying no to things and with putting my foot down rather than being taken advantage of. I hate confrontation, but if an anti-vaxxer tries to insist that he should be able to come into my house without a mask, I am perfectly within my rights to draw a line in the sand, and if, as a last resort, I have to get hostile to do so, I should not feel the least bit guilty about it. That bit of self-improvement is out of my comfort zone, and might require more effort on my part. Pardon my dust. I’m a work in progress. Aren’t we all?

So now I have themes. I feel better already. It’s nice, in this unpredictable world, to have some boundaries that you can count on. And if I construct those redoubts myself, then one day I’ll look up and realize I’ve created a comforting sanctuary, indeed, and one where all loved ones are quite welcome.

So, wish me luck! And I’d love to hear about your unique theme in the comments below. As my dear and inspiring friend Carole likes to say, “Onward and upward, into the future!”

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Flexible Schedules

I’m someone who thrives on stability and routine. This would not be for me.

For most of my life, I’ve had jobs with very set schedules. Granted, they’ve not always been the best schedules. For example, I worked graveyard shift for 13 years. But at least I could count on when I was coming and going. I could plan my leisure activities and make appointments. I’m someone who thrives on stability and routine.

Several of my coworkers have no set schedule. They fill in for people on vacation, or for those who call in sick. They never know what day or shift or location they’ll be in from one week to the next. They can’t even count on the amount of income they’ll bring in at any given time. That would drive me absolutely nuts.

I’ve seen many people, who are not in their position, display a distressing lack of sympathy for such workers when they hear them complain. To them I say that it’s impossible to understand the situation unless you experience it yourself.

In essence, when you work a flex schedule, you have no life. It’s impossible to maintain a social life under those circumstances. People lose patience when you cancel on them too often. You can’t really make plans. How do you buy non-refundable concert tickets when you can’t even be sure if you’ll have to work? And even if you’re not “officially” on call, you’re never off the clock psychologically. You’re basically a slave to your employer’s whims.

I know a lot of people who work jobs of these types. Nurses, waitresses, security guards, taxi drivers, and the self-employed. It takes an incredible amount of self-discipline, patience, budgeting, and the ability to maintain your sanity on constantly changing sleep schedules.

I admire these people. I am grateful that I don’t count myself among their number. But the next time you are tempted to be dismissive of their hard work, remember that without them, our world would cease to function.

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The Winnowing

Getting married teaches you who your friends really are.

Well, here’s something that took me by complete surprise: Getting married teaches you who your friends really are. I’m not talking about the people who could or couldn’t attend my wedding. There are quite a few legitimate reasons for people to make that choice. Distance, expense, health, timing… I’m okay with that.

I’m also not referring to the people who might have disagreed with my decision. That’s fine, too. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion.

I’m talking about those who could not or would not emotionally support my decision, and my happiness, whether they agreed with it or not. I’m also calling out those who were offended by how a fundamental shift in my life goals and priorities had impacted them, as if they had staked claim to the center of my orbit and I had no right to deviate, ever. I’m talking about those who made a concerted effort to rain on my parade, as if they were the grand master thereof.

I admit it. Barb isn’t going to come out and play quite as often. At least, not with them. The center of my world is now the person I am sharing my life and my future with. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an awesome friend to have.

Personally, I can’t imagine saying to someone, or even thinking, “Now that you’re getting married, we can’t be friends because we no longer hang out twice a month.” How absurd. I’d like to think that my friends are grown-a$$ adults who can survive with a little less of me, and yet remain secure in my unwavering esteem.

I fully expect to have friendships outside of my marriage, as I expect my husband will. We are a team, but we’re also individuals. We’re not fused at the os coxae (look it up).

But for that to happen, it will require people to be just a little bit flexible. It will oblige people to make a tiny bit more effort, just as it will necessitate more effort on my part, because the logistics will be more complex. It will also demonstrate that the friends who stick around think I’m worth it.

So, as painful as certain realizations have been of late, I choose to look at this as a winnowing process. The wheat is being separated from the chaff. And what lovely wheat it is, too!

I am very, very lucky to have the amazing friends that I have, old and new. I am grateful for them every single day. Those who don’t have the staying power were apparently never true friends in the first place.

And to that, all I can say is… Namaste.

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Flexibility

I’ve met a lot of very rigid people in my lifetime. I always feel kind of sorry for them. It must be exhausting to get worked up over the minutiae of life. There is plenty of significant stuff to focus on.

For example, I know someone who writes furious e-mails to superiors if someone doesn’t leave paperwork at exact right angles to their desk edges. Seriously? Is that all you have to worry about? Then you are in pretty good shape in the overall scheme of things, if you ask me.

There are two types of people. The ones who ask themselves “Why is this important?” before overreacting, and the ones who don’t. The ones who don’t tend to lead very tense, miserable lives, and they pile undue stress onto those who are unfortunate enough to fall within their circle of influence.

It is important to have some sort of scale to determine what is worthy of your rage. Someone putting the dish soap in a place you haven’t specified should not get a reaction equivalent to someone firing a mortar through your living room window. If you think otherwise, you must be operating in a realm of post traumatic stress that’s worthy of professional help.

The older I get, the less energy I seem to have for petty foolishness. I can’t be bothered. I’d much rather take a nap. The planet will continue to circle the sun without my assistance.

Here’s a rule of thumb. I can go days, weeks even, without being truly angry. If you’re someone who gets angry several times a day… well… you might want to rethink things a tiny bit. Learn to bend or you will surely break. Just sayin’.

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Why is this Important in Life?

In every bureaucracy there are rules that probably came about for a very good reason, but they have become obsolete over time. No one in a position of power seems to have the courage to make changes, let alone rescind rules, so what you are left with are a bunch of absurd policies that you are forced to ignore with a wink, until some rigid a**hole makes an example of you.

For example, I knew someone who worked for a company that was located on a dock, and it required that they keep semaphore flags and that each employee was familiar with semaphore signaling, in case they had to communicate that way with passing vessels. In this day of marine radios and cell phones and bull horns you would be hard pressed to find a vessel captain that knew anything about semaphore, so the training kind of fell by the wayside around 1950, and no one knew where the flags had gotten to.

Then one new guy was hired as a supervisor and he had a major stick inserted into his behind. He read every single policy and procedure and decided to test everyone on semaphore. When no one knew it, he wrote everyone up. Then his boss pointed out that even he (the boss) didn’t know it, and after much general uproar, the whole situation blew over. But the rule remains on the books.

There seem to be two types of people in this world: the rigid type who abide by and enforce every single rule regardless of how absurd it is, and the flexible type who only adhere to the rules that actually make sense in the modern world. Apparently I fall into the latter group, because the former group seems tense and overly earnest to me.

I tend to think of them as people who are more interested in getting people into trouble than in having a rational and steady work environment. These are the types who won’t even remove mattress tags in the privacy of their own homes. Do they think they’re going to be raided by the mattress police? Rigid people give me the shits.

When a rule takes on a life of its own, and the only reason for it is that it’s the way it’s always been done, it’s time for change. If you cannot make that change, then you have to ask yourself why you would put so much energy into enforcing that rule. Do you, perhaps, simply delight in causing drama and conflict? If you are about to enforce a rule, first ask yourself if the breaking of this rule will in any way impact the health, safety, profit margin, productivity, reputation or integrity of the staff or the company involved. If the answer is no, perhaps it’s time for you to get over yourself.

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Thoroughly modern, Millie…

[Image credit: gopixpic.com]