Have you ever had a lightbulb moment, one that brings you to your knees (in a good way)? I had that today. Before I go further, let me back up a sec and set the scene.
Last night I was talking on the phone with my boyfriend, filling him in about my day. I mentioned that I had worked in my backyard again but stopped earlier than I intended. I still had energy, my body felt more or less fine, and there was even one more green waste bin available, but I decided to call it a day. That got us to talking about how I should do that more often and how my usual M.O. is to push push push until I’m either done with the task or my body is toast. Not the best strategy, especially for someone who has chronic health issues.
This morning in my meditation, that lightbulb went off and shined a massive light on what this is really about: I attach my self worth to my productivity. Freaking BOOM.
I got giddy with that realization. Because I’m a total nerd, I was super excited to have this type of ah-ha moment. Then I went deeper to see if I could discover where this behavior stemmed from. Of course I started with my parents, because as a parent myself, I know how much of what we do affects our children. Lucky for me, it wasn’t one of my parents so I continuted on with the self discovery. After some reflection, I realzied that it stemmed from my response to one of my exes with whom I’d had a long-term relationship. Without going into detail — and without throwing him under the bus — I began having flashes of past experiences which formed this behavior.
Now, I want to be clear: I’m not blaming him or anyone else for this, because a) he was doing the best that he could, and b) I allowed his actions and words to influence me. But having this newfound clarity gives me the opportunity to make changes from here on out.
I also want to clarify the technical difference between productivity and busy-ness. I have days when I get so much accomplished in a very short amount of time, when I’m ridiculously productive. That’s different than me having a to-do list 30 items long every day and feeling accomplished or deflated, depending on how much I get done. This circles back to my realization of attatching my self worth to how much I accomplish.
Once I began connecting the dots and going deeper into this rabbit hole, I discovered ways to shift some areas of my life. I decided to implement the strategy of “stopping before.”
My first change is to stop before I’m physically exhausted. This means not finishing my big yard project in one day, not painting an entire room in one session, not teaching so many yoga classes each week. What it does mean is me having enough left over in my reserves so I don’t feel physically depleted, helping me not end up in pain after a project. Which leads me to…
…stopping before I’m in pain. The sublte difference here is I can have energy to burn but push it too hard or fast, resulting in pain in some part of my body. For instance, I’ll be forced to quit whatever project I’m doing when my body hurts (like when my back gets ticked from shoveling dirt). So what if I stop before I get to the pain point? What a novel idea.
Next up is stopping before I’m mentally exhausted. Same principle as above, just with my mind. I tend to be a workaholic. I used to think that was a good thing, especially while running a business. Admittedly, I also used to have a “it-must-be-nice” mindset towards people who’d do things like have weekends off, stop working in the evenings, take regular naps, and even — gasp! — read for pleasure. Saything this out loud is kind of embarassing, but admitting it is part of my path to greater wellness. Now that I’m ending my work day earlier, I have more mental energy in the evenings and don’t collapse into bed every night.
The examples above were a couple of the more obvious ways to stop pushing so hard. But in continuing on with my self exploration, I discovered there are a few more subtle ways that I can self-regulate even further, beginning with stopping before I’m stuffed from eating too much food.
Those of you who know me know I’m a foodie. In my younger years I was blessed with a strong metabolism which created the eating habits of whatever, whenever, in any portion size desired. Three babies and a thyroid issue later, those patterns need to be changed. Please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not here promoting a strict diet, leaving me feel deprived and unexcited (because I do get excited about food, let’s be honest). What I’m reminding myself is that I can stop before I’m full, and especially well prior to being stuffed to the gills. Far from Thanksgiving meals past, I leave more room on my plate when dishing up and resist the urge to grab that extra whatever just because it tastes good.
Last but not least is stopping before I’m pissed off. I could phrase this in a more flowery way, but this is the reality. I’m a fiery person, and I’ve been known to lose my shit in the past. Granted, yoga and meditation have helped me immensely with keeping my cool longer, which is an absolute blessing. And while I don’t blow my top often, I can always feel those emotions rising prior to losing it.
When my kids were little, I’d use a volcano as my example. I told them that I was “here,” (holding my hand at, say, my chest), and reminded them that once it got to my eyebrows, heads were going to roll. Using this analogy, I’m now paying attention to when my volcano is starting to become active, and I rarely let myself get to the explosive state.
So here’s the thing — I’m an intelligent woman. I know these things. This isn’t rocket science. But as I uncover the deeply-rooted behaviors that have formed the last 50 years of my life, I get to decide if they stay or they get the boot. I’m choosing to discontinue these tendencies right now, to do the work, to stop before. Maybe we share some of these behaviors. Maybe you also have your own unique ones. Join me in shining the spotlight into the corners of ourselves.