While nursing baby number four in my right arm, I unsuccessfully try to balance a big book on my other knee and study the text in four minute snippets. I keep thinking to myself, is this really worth it? Other days, I try to study the words from a religious book on my phone. I wonder if I am getting anything at all out of my reading? And, where is my two-year-old?
I struggle with performing tasks when they cannot be done under “ideal circumstances”. Often the things that bring me peace and confidence don’t get done at all because I can’t do them the way I want. Frankly, I make great excuses: this baby is too wiggly, my mind can’t focus or I’ll do it tonight when I can be alone with my pen, paper and hot chocolate. Then, 11 pm rolls around, and my brain is too fried to study. I realize that another day passes without my personal reading (or worship time or exercise or planning session or one-on-one time with my children).
I am a group exercise instructor and see this in my clients all of the time. They have great and hefty 90-day transformation plans or a race training calendar in hand. Then, one busy day turns into another and the training stops. Many refuse to do a 20-minute quick session. I have heard them say, “It’s not real. I could be doing so much more. I am capable of doing a full 60-minute tough run. It’s not worth doing a lame 20 minutes.” I get on these people, telling them that a little something is better than a big nothing. I tell them that the smallest deed is larger than the greatest intention. Then I realize, I am that client!
Do you find yourself neglecting or giving up on activities that bring you joy or peace because you can’t do them 100%? For example: personal worship, planning out your calendar, exercise, dates with your husband, one-on-one time with each child, planning the budget or contemplation.
We put these valuable tasks to the wayside for several reasons. One, you know what you are capable of performing. Anything beneath that potential feels like a personal cop-out. Given an ideal environment (solitude, time, a better computer, a few more dollars) you could do a good job of the task. It makes us feel sub-par to do only 20% of something, so we don’t do it.
Two, we have the mistaken notion that excellence is a series of wins. In reality, achieving a goal or becoming something is a series of consistent tries. It’s like building a muscle. Training for a race doesn’t mean racing and winning each day. It means gradually building cardiovascular stamina one run at a time. Maybe you are trying to build wisdom stamina, child patience stamina, kindness stamina, or gotta-learn-to-be-frugal stamina. Small, daily attempts will keep our muscles warm and the engine going. When we stop at something the machine cools and it’s much harder to start up. That’s why it is worth the 20 minute run or the four minute read each day.
Three, we think it’ll be easier later. The truth might be that it won’t be easier to plan, dream, get the laundry done or have personal reading anytime soon. The “ideal circumstance” is a myth. The perfect time comes rarely. Facing that reality can help us progress amid chaos.
We also need to face the facts of self-sabotage. Maybe some of our priorities are not getting addressed because of our choices. For me, I’ve wasted some of my “prime time” energy dragging all four children to stores, surfing the Internet, or staying up too late. Often my children don’t get my best self; they get my left-overs!
Marie-Annette Brown has said, “We must master the art of starting over.” I am mastering the art of starting over. Some tasks are minute to minute. Each time I get frustrated with the children I take a deep breath, speak in a kinder tone and try again and again. I make eggs for dinner, despite the fact I know I’m a more exciting cook than that. And, I celebrate that I served something healthy. I read while nursing without my beloved notebooks and pens. I do push-ups in my street clothes, help with spelling tests on the way to school and vacuum the middles of my floors. It’s day-to-day progress amid imperfection. And, it’s making me a happier mother.
QUESTION: What activities are you neglecting because you can’t do them under “ideal circumstances”?
CHALLENGE: Choose one personal task/goal that is important to you and do a portion of it regardless of less-than-perfect circumstances.