I’ve been feeling a little off kilter lately. Life is hectic. I leave for work in the morning, drive an hour each way, spend 9 hours there, pick up my daughter and arrive home nearly 12 hours later. The rest of my evening is consumed with cooking dinner, cleaning up and caring for my toddler child who goes to sleep late because my husband works second shift and needs some sleep too.
Most of you probably have your own schedule challenges.
I feel like I’m constantly behind and running from one task to another, forgetting things and not sure what I’m really supposed to be doing. I’m pretty good at organization but I lose track of my purpose sometimes, and therefore lose my balance in life. The good thing is that I think I know what can help me. That hard part is fitting it into my schedule.
Several years ago I picked up the book The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life by Martha Beck. It’s a tiny little book but it holds so much humor and wisdom. I incorporated it into my life at that time and it truly helped me put what was most important to me center stage in my life, define goals and take towards making it a reality. Sadly, I’ve gotten away from it. Oh, I still do a few things she recommends on an irregular basis but I think working more consciously with these steps could be just what I need.
One of the hardest steps, though it sounds easy, is the first – to do fifteen minutes of NOTHING every day. We are so inundated with things to do that it may be more difficult than you think to find fifteen minutes all to yourself to quiet your mind. Of course, you can never really completely quiet your mind. The point is to watch your thoughts go by without getting drawn into the emotions they usually create. My boss is being a real jerk today! Mmm-hmm, that’s nice dear. Just watch your thoughts float by like a leaf floating down a stream. The point is to detach from them so you can relax. I found doing this on paper, ala Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” was a great way to go for a writer.
The second step is to create or find a moment of TRUTH every day. We tend to assume that the things we are telling ourselves are true. The truth may be vastly different and yet those thoughts are creating our feelings! We dig a little deeper to find the truth so that we can be more productive. I have felt my mood elevate just by acknowledging what I am saying to myself and recognizing how I have made something seem worse than it really is.
The third step is to figure out what we DESIRE. So many times we divorce ourselves from what we really want in our lives because we think it just isn’t realistic, that we’re never going to get it. “I’ll never find someone to love so I should just stop wanting it.” But that doesn’t make the desire go away, it just submerges it so that it becomes a deep-seated source of discontent. Might as well acknowledge what we want, figure out if it’s something we really want, then start figuring out how to get it. Which brings us to our next step.
CREATIVITY. Most of the time we’re not going to get what we really want by doing the same old things we’ve always done. It’s time to get creative and come up with some ideas. Martha has a phrase for it that I really like, “force innovation.” You create lists of ways to get what you want, from reasonable to illegal. The point is to brainstorm ideas, not necessarily to do them.
Next comes RISK. It’s often going to take a risk to get what you really want. If you break it down into the smallest step you can possibly take every day, you can overcome the fear and actually take the step. Put up the profile on the dating site, send the manuscript to the editor, send your resume off to the company.
Then you can get to the TREATS. Just like training any lab animal, you’re going to have to reward yourself into taking action if you’re going to keep it up. Martha teaches you how to figure out what a treat is for you and to give yourself permission to have them. (Yes, some people need permission to treat themselves well.) Some of mine include listening to music, petting my cat and good coffee. It’s anything that sparks a smile for you. The real trick is to recognize them as treats and take full pleasure in them.
The ability to PLAY is something most of us figure we have to give up at some point. What Martha is suggesting is a change in perspective about what you do every day. Once you realize what your purpose is in life, you can see that everything else you do is simply a game you are playing to make your real purpose in life possible. It’s not such a big deal. Martha has a shortcut to figuring out what your purpose is. Think about September 11, 2001. What did you do that night? It’s probably related in some way to your life purpose. I wrote a fictional story about a woman who lost her husband in the towers, but then I’ve always known my purpose is to write. Yours may not be quite so literal.
Ever since Norman Vincent Peale, we’ve all known that LAUGHTER is a powerful form of medicine. Really, is there anything better for lifting your mood? Sometimes I trip over it and sometimes I have to go looking. I take myself over to Pinterest and look at the Geek board at least every other day. I adore funny movies and books. I recently found the Sweet Potato Queen books and I have not laughed so hard at a book in ages. It relieves stress and lowers your blood pressure. I’m learning to laugh instead of getting angry when something goes wrong. Martha suggests you should be getting at least 30 LPDs (Laughs Per Day.) I’d say it’s a fun thing to strive for.
CONNECTION is perhaps the most important of the Joy Diet steps. It requires that you use the first five steps in dealing with at least one other person every day. We all know that solitary confinement is a punishment. There’s a vast difference between being alone with yourself and being lonely. We need other people in our lives, but more than that, we need to feel connected to other people. A lot of people don’t know how to truly connect with others, or they’re afraid of the pain that doing so will inevitably bring them. Yes, being connected to other people will bring you pain. They will do things that hurt you or you might be left behind at some point. The point is that by being connected to other people, you’ll be better able to endure the pain life throws your way. Martha says that, “even as your heart breaks, you’ll find that it always breaks open.” You’ll have a network of connections to call on in your time of need.
The last step simply sounds joyful, FEASTING. I close my eyes and picture large groups of people talking and laughing, sitting around and enjoying each other’s company, with music and food and drink. But feasting doesn’t require other people. It doesn’t even require food. Feasting is about the attention you give to whatever activity you are engaging in so that it is set apart from other daily activities. One of the most important aspects of feasting is ritual. Most people think of a church service or a family saying grace before dinner, but it can also mean getting into comfy clothes, making popcorn, and getting cozy on the sofa with a blanket before starting a movie. The actions set what you are about to do apart from the rest of the day.
You can feast on sights, sounds, touch, movement or even sleep. It’s something that feeds you physically, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually. Some of my favorite feasts involve watching a movie that inspires or makes me think, listening to peepers in the warm spring air late at night or washing my hands in warm water with honey scented soap. Then you give thanks. Feel your gratitude for this feast, whomever you direct it to, God, the universe or yourself. Being grateful for the good things gives us something to hold onto when things aren’t going so well.
Of course, there’s a lot more to all of this than I’ve been able to say in just this post but I hope it gives you the idea. This book is packed with humor and information. I’ve only been able to give you a taste here. I highly recommend you get the book for yourself and give it a try. Check it out at the library if you’re not sure you want to spend the money on it. I did, and ended up buying it for myself. I’m so glad to have it on my bookshelf. I hope it enriches your life too.