Being Up Against the Wall

Does being in a bad place motivate you?

Sometimes, being extra-super stressed out can be a great motivator.  If you know you have to meet a deadline or you will lose a client, most of us get pretty motivated to meet the deadline.

But what about bigger, stress-ier situations?  Like your car is broken down, you have no money to fix it and without a car you have no way to get to work and without a job you don’t get to eat? Is that kind of situation a motivator or does it make you shut down?

The answer probably depends on a set of complex factors–your personality, your situation and how long it’s been sucking, your environment and the people surrounding you. If you are like me, your reaction to adversity is different just about every time.

Usually, I just want to go to sleep. When things are just too hard to think about, it’s time for a nap. It’s not a good impulse to follow though, so instead, I usually try to do something, anything, to make things better. Even if I just write a Textbroker article for $4.

Sometimes, it feels like there’s nothing in the world to do to improve the situation, or worse, that it won’t do any good to even try. Those are dark days indeed. Why bother? It has always sucked, still sucks and will continue to suck as far ahead as you care to look. Danger. Danger.

During the last year, I’ve done a couple of things to try and avoid those scariest of days. Maybe they would work for other people, maybe not.

One of the most important steps has been to cultivate an attitude of appreciation and gratitude. Most days, I make a list of 5 good things–from simple, silly things like oatmeal cookies to important, serious things like good (wonderful, even!) children and a happy marriage. Then, I email the list to a random email contact. If it’s a particularly blah day, the list helps me refocus. In fact, that is probably the power of those lists: they help change the focus to the good stuff.

Another useful experiment was my personal 30 day challenge to exercise every day for 30 consecutive days. So, I only made it for 28 days, but the experiment taught me that exercise really can change your outlook, energy level and attitude. If you have the discipline to take a walk everyday or join a group fitness class your dark days might just lighten up.  Soon, I will try a 90 day personal challenge.

Finally, I made an effort to be more social during the last year, with mixed results. For years, my little family went to parties, had tons of company, went camping, visited friends and family and were generally out and about. The last 3-5 years, however, we have stayed home much more and our friends have come to visit less often. Maybe we are getting old. Maybe we have less money. Certainly, we have less energy.

Seeing people and enjoying social situations can be a mood lifter, but sometimes it’s not so good.  The results are still out on this one.

One goal I have for 2010 is to keep looking for ways to make the rough patches smoother, and would welcome suggestions. Are there specific things you do that help when times get hard? What works for you?

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List Paralysis

This morning I made a to-do list. Then, I sat there with it for a long time. Just feeling completely overwhelmed. I made the list fairly short, knowing that it would be impossible to do everything that needs doing today. So, I made a reasonable list of things that would make life easier in our house during the next week.

Still, the list paralyzed me. It just felt like a terrible way to spend a Sunday; cleaning and working and buying things like trash bags. I would much rather read something by Ursula K. Le Guin and nap.

How many times have you heard someone say something like “I wish I could quit smoking” or “lose weight” or any number of other things people want/need/should do? My first reaction is thinking, “Well, just do it. If you want to quit smoking, stop putting cigarettes in your mouth.” For some, they need that muscle movement, which is why getting a premium e liquid and a vape could help, but the point still stands.

Now, you might be thinking that I’ve never had to quit smoking so don’t know how hard it really is, but I have quit smoking. More than once. I think the most useful tool I used was a vape. Sites like https://www.theherbcollectiveoc.com/product-page/plugplay-plug-n-play-vape-pod-cartridges-1-gram helped me find suitable cartridges so my mind would think I was having a cigarette when really I was limiting my nicotine intake. However, each time I would stay quit for about two years, then take up the habit again always telling myself I would just have to find a new way to give up. And it worked. In fact, I even lost 60 pounds the last time I quit smoking.

Personally, I found that switching to an rt4200 digital classic vape pipe made the transition process much easier. There is a lot of research out there to suggest that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes and therefore if you are trying to give up cigarettes, it is well worth considering switching to vaping until you are ready to give up nicotine for good. Plus, nowadays, you can even get e-liquids that are infused with THC if you are a cannabis user.

The last time I quit was four years ago, and this time, I think it will be permanent. I have gained 50 pounds, so now have a different goal. I really wish I could lose some weight. Somebody (a thin person) at work one day said, “It’s easy to lose weight,” and I thought “Obviously you’ve never had to lose weight.” But that person was right. If you want to lose weight all you have to do is eat well and exercise.

Why is it so hard to do the simple things that will help us reach the most important goals? Why did an easy, useful to-do list paralyze me? How do you overcome that resistance to just jumping in and doing what will help make life better? And, is it possible to be too efficient and organize? Will you miss out on opportunities for joy and spontaneity by becoming a slave to your list?

One of my favorite posts on zenhabits.com is one titled The Lazy Manifesto: Do Less. Then, Do Even Less. Maybe the key to reaching all of those goals is to choose to work on only the very most important things. Make the list as simple as possible, enjoy working on it, then take a nap.

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Getting Through the Hard Stuff

Choosing to take on new projects, striving to reach new goals or working to build something unique challenges and inspires but sometimes also drains and dispirits.  In deciding on topics for this blog, I make an effort to focus on those things that help me keep working toward my goals and that might help others feel motivated or inspired.  But there are days, even weeks sometimes, that I just feel too dispirited to even pretend I feel motivated.

The last week or two has been like that.  Every day has presented its own obstacles and barriers and simply getting things done has felt like winning battles.  One of the teenagers in my house has dealt with various health problems for most of her life, and it appears she may have more to face.  Nothing life-threatening, but certainly long-lasting and painful.  Watching a child suffer pain is torturous, and then add to that petty and unhelpful doctors’ staffs and insurance companies…well, it doesn’t leave you feeling like you can take on the world.

It’s humbling, though, to know that our problem is small compared to many, and we are lucky enough to have insurance coverage despite a chronic condition.  It feels petty to focus on the hard stuff when there are so many others with much harder stuff to handle.

Stories of people who overcome insurmountable odds to succeed when success appears impossible are inspiring, and maybe a little overwhelming.  Watching my daughter keep up with her schoolwork and do normal teenager things while in constant pain is inspiring in a different way.  Knowing that she smiles and gets on with it certainly means I can take a few minutes to finish writing an article or post.

Even though the last few weeks have been less fun than we like, in a strange way, it feels good.  Maybe even inspiring.

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Can a Slob Become a Neatnik?

Not much inspires me to clean. Even though I know that I will feel better if my surroundings are clean, it takes some sort of push for me to get it done. Maybe if friends are coming over or it is someone’s birthday…even then, I usually do the minimum necessary. The thing is, I spend a lot of mental energy worrying about finding time to really clean.

There are plenty of excuses: I have writing to do, I don’t feel good, I’ve worked all week – shouldn’t I enjoy the weekend? Most of the excuses are valid. I do work full time and spend at least 15-20 hours a week building my writing business. Then there are the two teenage girls who live in my house. I used to think when they were old enough to help with the big stuff it would get easier. Turns out, they have the same aversion to cleaning that I do.

I’ve tried set schedules and routines for cleaning and to make it just a part of my day. That didn’t work. I’ve tried making chore charts so that everyone in the family could share in the work. That didn’t work. I’ve tried declaring Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon chore time, where we all work together for 20-30 minutes cleaning. That didn’t work. I’ve tried going on strike to see how long it would take before the rest of my family couldn’t stand the mess anymore and cleaned it up (I do NOT recommend this route!). That didn’t work.

Nothing has worked for any length of time. And this is a personal problem that goes way, way back – to even before I had a space of my own to keep up. By default, I tried to keep my dad’s house clean as a teenager because my younger brother and dad certainly didn’t care about the mess. Really, I wish I could attain that sort of redneck zen, where the cleanliness of my house just didn’t matter and I could be happy and at ease even if there are empty drink cans all over the end tables and piles of laundry on the sofa.

In an effort to try and help inspire myself and my fellow slobs to do a better job of cleaning up, I’ve been looking for ways to make it a little easier:

  • One of the biggest things is to visit someone who keeps a really neat house. I always come back home and think, “I’m going to do a little more around here so my house is as comfortable as ……..”
  • As a big fan of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, I enjoy reading her posts about how outer order promotes inner peace. Her thoughts on the topic don’t always inspire me to get up and clean up but they usually sit in the back of my mind and help me feel motivated when there is time to clean.
  • A recently discovered site is the Unclutterer. It’s been around for awhile, but it is pretty entertaining. I find the “Workspace of the Week” photos particularly inspiring because I dream of having a neat and pleasant home office someday soon. It has taught me a lot about how simple organization can drastically change the layout and functionality of a home office. The photos also provide great inspiration for new office furniture which I could invest in, such as an office partition (click here to learn more) to separate my working space and my husbands’ working space.

And now, I have to go wash dishes and put the clothes in the dryer.

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Inspiration All Around

The special people who run small businesses inspire me endlessly.  Little “mom and pop” convenience stores, gas stations, book stores, repair shops, shoe stores, pharmacies, and plenty of others, where the owners are not getting rich but are providing service with a smile make me believe in this country.

In the community where I live there is a chain convenience store that sells gas and is open 24 hours, 7 days a week.  There is also a full service gas station that is closed after 6 pm and on Sundays.  The service station is run by a man named Duane Thomas and his nephew Jason Randolph.

When you pull up to the pump, one of them comes out, asks what you need, pumps your gas, cleans the windshield, chats about the weather and tells you to have a good day or evening.  At the chain store, you can have access to more candy and cokes, but nobody is quite as cheerful or glad to see you as at Thomas’ Service Station.

One morning I stopped at Thomas’ to get gas on my way to work.  I asked for $10 worth of gas and after he pumped it, Mr. Thomas waited patiently for me to dig through my wallet.  I only had a $5 bill!

I apologized, handed him the five and asked if he needed me to run home and get the rest or if it would be okay for me to come back after work.  He said, “Oh, after work is fine.  Don’t worry, it’s all right.”

Then, he stopped and said, “Do you have money for lunch?” He handed me back my five and said, “Don’t give me your lunch money, just bring it to me this evening.”

I am a Thomas’ Service Station customer for life.

In support of local brick and mortar businesses everywhere,  Cinda Baxter runs the 3/50 Project.  The 3/50 Project suggests that people who support independently owned businesses choose three each month at which to spend a total of $50.  Most of us will spend $50 a month on various purchases anyway, so why not support independent business owners at the same time?

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Something for the Locals

I live in Chattanooga, TN.  There’s a lot to love about this area.  Chattanooga has enjoyed national coverage of our revitalized downtown in the last few years.  Living here means having access to gorgeous woodlands, rivers, creeks, trails, and farmland but also access to great restaurants, theaters, coffeehouses, museums, public parks, shops and other conveniences and pleasures of a busy downtown.  Most people who live here know that in the 1960s, Chattanooga was named one of the dirtiest cities in the country by the EPA but now is recognized as an example of how to clean up.  We have a long way to go toward being green enough or sustainable enough–whatever enough is.

Most of the changes to our city began with a “visioning process” called Vision 2000 and organized by a non-profit called Chattanooga Venture, founded in 1984. A group of politicians and business people and regular citizens got together and drew up a plan for what they wanted Chattanooga to look like.  The result is a downtown that is nice for the people who live here and that attracts tourists.  As happens sometimes, the whole thing snowballed and success brought more success and neighborhoods revitalized one by one. The process is still continuing today, but we are now facing new opportunities and challenges.

A little over a year ago, VW announced that they would be building a new automotive plant in Chattanooga.  Obviously, this is good news in terms of jobs and economic development.  VW is the most often mentioned because it is the largest but several other companies are coming, too: Alstom Power, Gestamp Corporation, and Wacker Chemie, as well as others.  Along with wonderful opportunities come challenges.

Like all cities, Chattanooga faces some problems.  Budget issues.  Public service scandals.  Public education.  Homelessness.  Poverty.  Sprawl.  Gentrification.  It would be nice to imagine that all of the economic development and jobs would create a “natural” cure to all those public ills, but that is simply not realistic.  Instead, each problem could potentially intensify because of new industry.  Our population will likely grow and more people mean more problems.  If property values rise because more people are competing to buy, some families will no longer be able to afford to pay taxes on their homes, there will be more children to educate, our police, fire and sanitation departments will all feel the stress of increased demand on their services.

All of that is not to mention taming our carbon footprint, protecting our natural areas, encouraging sustainable growth, improving and encouraging local food production, etc., etc. So, like towns all over the country, Chattanooga has plenty of issues facing it.  Enter Chattanooga STAND.  STAND is another visioning effort. It was begun by a fairly small group, funded by foundations and individuals, and seeks to involve the entire population of the area.  STAND aims to  collect answers to a four question survey from 25,000 area residents.  The questions are simple enough for children to answer and vague enough to allow people some room for interpretation.   They are:

1. What do you like about the Chattanooga region?
2. Imagine the best possible Chattanooga. Describe it.
3. What challenges must be addressed?
4. What actions, big or small, can you take to help?

The collected answers to the survey questions will be entered into a database, coded, then the information will be made available to whoever wants it.  The goal is to make the concerns and preferences of the residents of Chattanooga known and help spur residents, politicians and businesses to be involved in solving the problems we face together.  Call me naive, but this seems like a great thing.  I am being invited to contribute my opinion, and my opinion is going to be documented and used to create a plan for the city I live in.

If you live in or around Chattanooga and would like to be part of a plan for our future, go to ChattanoogaStand.com and take a Stand.  Voice your opinion.  Allow it to be recorded and counted.  It is probably the easiest, least time-consuming way to be civically active.

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