When I turned 40, I took up running, trained for 9 months and completed a half marathon. It was brutal...and amazing. One week later I strained my IT band, ended up in 8 weeks of physical therapy and stopped running for over a year. Here’s the kicker, it wasn’t because my injury didn’t resolve but because I just didn’t restart. I lost my groove. Since then, I’ve done a few races but I haven’t gotten back to the same consistency.
Then there was the 18months that I was gluten free and feeling great. I’m not sure what stopped that season (it may have been a pandemic) but even with a screaming stomach, my motivation wanes.
I’m sure you can relate. Everyone has things in their lives that they want, that they know will make their lives better, and that they drag their feet when it comes to doing it.
Can you think of something in yours?
Maybe you even followed through on it for a long time and then something happened and you find yourself back at square one.
And then on top of the frustration of not achieving the goal, we heap on a diatribe of self deprecation. “I never follow through. It’s too hard. If only I was more dedicated, or stronger, or disciplined.” It’s like a parade of mean girls marching around in our brains, waving failure flags and telling us we aren’t good enough.
But what if it wasn’t a problem that this happens. What if it is just the way it’s supposed to be?
What if life is like cleaning a kitchen?
Let me explain. We use the kitchen every day. Even on days when I’m not actually cooking my family is still in and out of it multiple times. No matter what, the kitchen requires some type of daily cleaning. Of course it’s annoying, especially when you finally get all the counters clean and then someone else comes in and leaves mail on the counter and shoes in the middle of the floor. At times, it even seems reasonable to feel homicidal when this happens.
Or maybe you mess it up yourself. You clean everything beautifully and then decide to make popcorn or nachos. And after having those you think,” I’ll clean those dishes tomorrow. I’ve done enough today.”
So what does this have to do with the constant struggle of trying to stick to your goals, restarting over and over and over?
Our natural default setting is to exert only enough energy to survive
(AKA: the baseline is to have a kitchen).
Anything beyond exerting enough energy to survive takes mental fortitude and higher level thinking. It takes knowing that the future outcome is worth the present struggle or discomfort. Even when we get good at this, it doesn’t change our factory default setting. It’s still there. That’s what makes it a default.
So let’s go back to the kitchen analogy. The kitchen gets messy. We EXPECT to keep cleaning it. Even when life gets busy and we don’t stay on top of keeping pristine, we aren’t surprised that it needs to be done again. We don’t think that it should have somehow stayed clean when we continue to live in it. We may complain about it, or resist doing it, but we don’t throw in the towel, beat ourselves up and decide we “should know better by now.” We may evolve to the place where we wipe down the counters every night but we never think we should have evolved past needing to clean the kitchen.
What if we could take this approach to repeatedly redoing other things in our lives? Sometimes you will be done with something once and for all, but most things in life aren’t like that.
Nothing has gone wrong if we default back to our factory settings sometimes.
We might find a great way to move forward and then life happens and our previous approach is sabotaged. It’s like when the dishwasher breaks. The routine of keeping the kitchen clean by loading and unloading the dishwasher is not going to work in this situation. Maybe for a few days we wallow in denial and let the dishes pile up but ultimately we come up with an alternative plan (like begging the husband to do them) and find a new way to move toward the outcome we want.
This is true for our other goals as well. We can be moving along swimmingly and then the unexpected happens. Again, this doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong (although it feels catastrophic.)
It’s not an invitation for the mean girl parade.
It doesn’t even mean we can’t be aggravated or put out. It just means we need to redo our plan to stay one step ahead of the factory defaults. The goal might be the same, ie: clean dishes, but the approach might need to change ie: delegation of dish washing :)
So why does this even matter?
Because it’s our own drama that keeps us from moving forward, this story that something has gone drastically wrong and ALL IS LOST.
I don’t know about you but I don’t generally take positive action when I am rolling out the red carpet for the mean girls.
I don’t have time for parades in my head. When one approach stops working, it’s totally fine. It’s normal. It’s expected!
Just time to find a new way of doing things to keep moving forward.
Acceptance that this is just the way it is will help you keep going.
It will make setbacks irrelevant.
Does this resonate with you? Come on over and follow me on Facebook at NursingBeyondtheJob.