I’ll admit it. At some point in the last few years I’ve lost some confidence in myself and my ability to accomplish complicated tasks, especially mechanical. Before that, I’d been moderately successful with plumbing, flooring, dry walling, bathroom renovation, installing ceiling fans, and host of other DIY. I’ve also accomplished some fine work in the software engineering arena at work.
But lately, I’ve found myself unmotivated, rigid, whiny, and frustrated. I want to come to work listening to a book, do a fair enough amount of work, come home listening to a book, spend time with my family, have food magically appear on plates in front of the huge tv in our den, watch Friends and Scandal in bed with my wife until she is snoring, plug into to my Kindle Fire and watch Supernatural until my brain settles down enough to sleep. Any deviation from this in most unwelcome.
But when you’re a husband, father, homeowner, cook, and play a critical role at work, this just doesn’t cut it! So I’m working on a little bit of self improvement. Here are the three things that are working.
The Million Dollar Bet
The Million Dollar Bet stems from all the little useless probabilities I run throughout the day. I bet there’s no one around the corner. I bet that I’ll stop for Sonic today. Who would take that bet? I’ll bet that I can open this door so quietly that no one will hear it. Just absolutely useless, compulsive pretend betting.
But the Million Dollar Bet is not useless. Here’s how it works. Let’s say the upper tray of the dishwasher is off it’s rails and the little doohickeys that hold it there have popped out. Let’s say that I’ve already tried once, but it was too late and too dark and my wife was there sucking the creativity out of me. This is not a criticism of her, but when someone takes the lead on a project with me I just get really dumb. So, enters logic. 1.) I have to wash the dishes. 2.) I cannot wash the dishes unless this is fixed 3.) There is no benefit to putting this off. I grumble to myself a little bit until I accept the fact that I am a grown-ass man who should be able to do this tiny little task, so I bet myself one million dollars that I can do this.
It’s amazing how well this works on me. I mean, I have to fix the dishwasher; otherwise, I will owe one million clams to some veeeeeery shady characters! I couldn’t figure it out the night before because of my frame of mind. It took me all of 7 minutes once I made the million dollar bet. I think that my mind doesn’t work as well when I don’t want to do something. It get’s all whiny and angry, and then I become like the frustrated lady in a $19.99 commercial who can’t open a milk carton without a disaster of some sort.
Baby steps. I’ve already written about this. The film “What About Bob?” involves a fake pop psychology book called “Baby Steps”. It’s what ultimately rehabilitates Bob from his intense neuroses. I began applying it to myself to help with anxiety. It works exceptionally well. I was coming out of Aldi, a bargain grocery store, and I suddenly became overwhelmed. It was hot. I would need to take the groceries to the car, unload them, bring the cart back to get my quarter, go back to the car ,and get it cooled down enough to preserve the food. This simple sequence of tasks caused me great anxiety! I stood there, frozen, for a good thirty seconds until I remembered the movie. Baby steps to the car. Baby steps unload the groceries, baby steps…etc.
The idea that, when I’m pushing the cart to the car, I can’t be unloading, returning it, or anything else. The only thing actually happening is that I’m pushing a cart. The anxiety immediately went away. When I started applying it to other things, I began to realize that anxiety had been interfering heavily with my life. I had often become overwhelmed by relatively simple things. So, I would often put them off. This made me really unpleasant to live with with!
Living in the Moment
Enter mindfulness. This isn’t a new concept for me, but I’ve never really given it a serious try. If you do an image search on mindfulness, you’ll find a never ending stream of meditating ladies in yoga pants, drops of water in pools, smooth stones, and sand gardens. Well, I don’t have time for all of that. I do find meditation helpful, but I’ve always thought of it as something separate I have to schedule in my day. I wasn’t even thinking about Baby Steps being mindfulness, but it is. This cures all of my problems that are due to rigidity of schedule, lack of motivation, and anxiety (toeing the line with the Oxford comma back there!) . This notion that all there really is is this moment. How many times does a person have to hear these words before they mean something?!
Here’s an example. Last Saturday was a perfect day to do absolutely nothing productive for the household. Practice piano, practice tuba, watch tv, do crossword puzzles, just things that I enjoy doing. It’s good to have breaks like that, but I am recognizing that I can have plenty of time to myself and still give to the household. Instead of trying to get out of everything that my wife needs me to do, I’m really trying to embrace it and even go above and beyond. She’s not trying to ruin my day, I tell myself, she just knows what needs to happen for our household to work well!
So, the reason I can do this now whereas I couldn’t before, is that I kick these tasks up to a higher level in my mind. Maybe I’m cleaning out the garage. It’s not exactly what I want to do, but I’m still living. Is there really such a big difference between living on a couch in front of a tv and living on my feet picking up garbage and sweeping the floor? My heart is still beating. I’m still breathing. And it’s certainly more rewarding. And so I just do it. I don’t need to think about doing anything else but moving items in the garage to the right place, and occasionally blowing my nose (farmer style) because I’m allergic to dust. You might even say I enjoy cleaning out the garage, but I’m not even sure it matters whether I enjoy it or not. The only thing that really matters is that I live it.
My wife is reading this and rolling her pretty blue eyes and saying, “Here goes David with one of his epiphanies.” It’s true, I have a lot of epiphanies that radically change my life for 2 weeks. And I know these are “no duh’s” for most people, but obvious is not my strong suit. Complicated is, though. Baby steps: hit Publish button.