Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Taking stock

Between Thanksgiving and the end of the year (with New Year signaling new goals for many people), this time of the year is often when we check in and see how we've been doing.  We may have set goals that we are measuring our progress in, or we may just be looking at our life in general and seeing where we might want to set new goals.

Either way, the tendency is to undervalue our own progress and actions.  It's a 'grass is always greener' kind of outlook, and it's crippling.  We look at the world around us, and we think that everyone else is doing 'more' or 'better' than we are.  We tend to gloss over our own successes and we see the obstacles we've overcome not as triumphs but rather as reasons why we aren't as far forward as we think we should be.

This belief that we are somehow failing at our own life is very belittling.  It makes us feel inadequate, and puts us in a very unhealthy mental space.  Being able to truly evaluate where we are at, not only lets us appreciate how far we have come, how much we are actually doing, but also to be able to really tune into what we want to improve upon.  Without having an accurate starting point, we find ourselves intimidated by the scope of what is before us, and are more likely to shy away from it all together.

I am a list maker, and I really believe that lists are powerful things.  But they don't have to be a physical list, with checkboxes or numbers, written on paper.  You can create a list in collage form, adding pictures to represent different parts of your life.  You can list with art, adding color or symbols for different aspects of different goals.  You can list with physical representations, adding beads or slips of paper as you go along.

The strength of a list is it is a way to physically see how much we are doing.  The process of building the list really encourages you to examine different ways in which your goals are manifesting, things that you might be tempted to overlook if you are just idly thinking about them.  And it can be really motivating to see, whether you are progressing well or not.

And while we shouldn't rely on other people for our validations, it can be very helpful to use other people as a mirror with which to examine ourselves.  The trick here is to not compare our life to their life, but rather to use them as a way to look at ourselves more see our life as they might see it.

Sometimes, I don't feel like I am doing so much.  I feel like my life is just trundling along and I'm sort of just here, not really engaging.  But then, someone will ask me a question, or I'll go to explain myself to someone else, and in trying answer their question, I'll realize what all I actually do.

Questions that always make me realize just how much I have going on:  What is your morning/evening/daily routine like?  What kinds of crafts have you done?  What is your writing schedule like?  What books are you reading/have you read?

Checking in doesn't always have to be about things you do either.  I often struggle with feeling like I need more stuff in my life.  The concept that we need things to be complete is one that has been trained into us since we could understand the idea of owning things.  And sometimes, I get caught up in the new and shiny stuff, and it creates this very real sense of lack in my life.

It's not that I don't have things, but rather like I forget that I do (how crazy does that sound?) and that I feel like the lack of things makes my life bare.  This can make things like feeling gratitude much harder, especially if you are in groups where people are constantly sharing their new stuff (and in a group it is easy to loose track of who is sharing what, so it may feel like everyone is getting tons of new things, while in reality, lots of different people are getting one new thing).

Recognizing the abundance in our lives, and embracing how much we have is one of the ways to be grateful.  This doesn't mean that you won't want (or deserve) new things, simply that you acknowledge the lovely things you have, and feel blessed by their presence in your life.

Sometimes, this is as simple as talking about what you have.  Perhaps someone will ask about your tarot decks, and you realize that you have quite a list to share.  Or you might feel like a social outcast, but then your birthday comes up and people you didn't even realize thought about you are wishing you a happy birthday.  Sometimes it means getting out all of your dice (or whatever it is you are feeling a bit of envy towards) and putting them all in one place and just seeing them all together (especially if you tend to keep your things spread out all over).

Seeing what you have also lets you better decide what you need.  I have very particular tastes when it comes to things like art styles I like, so there is a tendency with me to have divination cards that clump together.  I know I want a variety in my decks, so that I can use decks to speak to any topic I may want to look into, and often I don't really think about what I don't have until I really want to use it.  If I check in regularly, however, I can better think about where the holes in my collection are, and what I might want that fits those spots, instead of only buying whatever the newest shiny is, even though I already have a handful of decks that work in that realm.

When it comes to goals and plans, checking in lets you see where you are doing really well (and should celebrate) and where you are struggling (and might need to adjust).  It may be tempting to not look at your progress, especially if it is something you are really struggling with.  I have been fighting with my weight for...decades now.  And I am not nearly as diligent as I should be with paying attention to this area of my life.  I tend to just sort of let it slide, and do things when I am feeling particularly low/sluggish (I know I feel better when I am more active, but that doesn't mean I always want to workout!), but I also avoid things like tracking my progress (weighing in or measuring myself), because I know it will be a harsh reminder of just how far I have to go, and how little effect my actions are having.

It can be demoralizing, when you feel like you are working hard, and you aren't getting anywhere.  To me, this indicates one of two things:  either you need to really be honest with yourself, check in hard and see if you maybe are crediting yourself with more effort than you are really putting in, or you need to look to see if there is something you aren't seeing that is changing the outcome.  Always check in first, because that is the most common way that things aren't working.

I know I often over-exaggerate things, even to myself.  I will think that I am 'eating healthy' but I'll ignore the seconds I have at dinner that make me miserably full for hours or the nights I sit watching a show and don't realize I've eaten half a bag of chips.  Or I'll say, "but I'm doing my exercise every day" and just pretend that a few minutes of playing with hand weights is enough to make me actually loose weight.  But when I sit down, when I write it out and really look at what I'm doing, and how often I'm doing it, I can see that I'm letting myself be blinded by what I want to be, and not seeing what actually is.

Sometimes, however, when you sit down, and you look at things, you realize that you were doing really well.  You may have cut your food intake, been really mindful about your snacking, changed your meals so you were eating more fruits and vegetables, and not only done 20 minutes of cardio 5 times a week, but also regular strength training workouts.  And you still are not seeing any change.  This is a clear indication that something else is going on and it's probably time to get a second opinion.  There is nothing more frustrating than doing all the right things and not getting your results.  Finding out what the issue is lets you change what you are doing to something that works better for you.

But all these things require you to really focus on what is actually going on in your life.  It means you have to stop telling yourself little white lies, stop allowing your mind to make excuses, and really see what's going on.  It might mean calling on a trusted friend, and asking them what they think of your situation.  You might find it helpful to ask strangers, who don't know you at all, because they won't be trying to avoid hurting your feelings by skirting the truth.  In all honestly, a combination of all of these is probably the best approach.  The more different angles you look at the situation from, the better and more clear a picture you will have (and the more obvious it will be if one of the angles you looked at was biased).

Seeing where we are in life lets us move forward, not only with a real sense of appreciation, but also with clear sight.  We aren't floundering around in the dark, hoping that we are making progress, but rather we are able to acknowledge both our strengths and our weaknesses...and plan accordingly.  We can adjust as needed, because we can see what is working and what isn't.  And, at the end of the day, we will find more satisfaction in ourselves, because we know that our perspective is valid.

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