Mental Load

An illustration of a woman with head held in hands and million swirling household thoughts written in thought bubbles all around here. Photo: www.bellebear.com
Photo credit: http://www.bellebear.com

A Facebook friend shared this graphic recently and I can’t stop thinking about it.  I have to-do lists miles long on the computer, in notebooks, in my head, unspoken, carried around all the time.  I suspect many women, particularly mothers, relate.  She kindly posted an inclusion of dads, but I wasn’t so nice or feeling so accommodating about the mental load men carry, as in most circles, men can simply opt out with no repercussions to career, standing in society or family.  But it was stopping to articulate that thought in a comment to my friend that got me thinking, well, why couldn’t I opt out, too?  So I decided to explore a bit more.

As I’ve written about before, I’m trying to practice new ways of thinking about thinking.  The programs I’ve been a part of use what’s called the Model: We have Thoughts regarding Circumstances.  Our Thoughts create our Feelings which drive our Actions and create our Results.  Our Results always prove our Thoughts true.  We outline this in a graphic organizer labeled CTFAR.  Brooke Castillo, Corinne Crabtree, Kara Lowentheil, and many other coaches trained through The Life Coach School use the Model to teach and coach.

 

Here are some unintentional models I think I have working about mental load:

C – mental load

T – If I don’t think of all this crap, I can’t guarantee it will get done.

F – pressure

A – Constant tasks, constant making of lists, always “optimizing” time and doing errands, orders, thinking.

R – I think about all this crap, but can’t guarantee it will all get done.

Or:

C – mental load

T – Men don’t suffer any consequences if this crap doesn’t get done.

F – victimized

A – Spend inordinate amounts of time in thought about everything there is to do, OR NONE in rebellion – sticking my head in the figurative sand

R – Men DON’T suffer any consequences, but I do.

How about:

C – mental load

T – People will think I’m a terrible mother or an unfit employee or (insert any number of perceptions/opinions of others here) if I don’t stay on top of this crap.

F – anxiety

A – perpetual to-do lists, taking on more, proving myself, not fully relaxing/recharging at any moment

R – I’m not a great mother OR employee OR . . .

Here was a surprise one:

C – mental load

T – It’s time to pare down.

F – overwhelmed

A – spin in deciding what to get rid of (physical or mental/emotional)

R – It’s still time to pare down.

 

Here are some Models I’d rather have (Intentional Models):

But what if I tried on:

C – mental load

T – What gets done gets done.

F – Peace

A – prioritize, eliminate, allow unfinished tasks without worry

R – What gets done gets done.

Or:

C – mental load

T – I don’t have to think of everything right now.

F – Permission.

A – relax, or fully finish one thing before starting another.  Case in point: as I’m writing this, my husband popped his head in the door and reminded me I should wake the 3 year old up from a rare nap.  I sat back down and kept writing.

R – I don’t think of everything right now/all at once.

I could try:

C – mental load

T – Maybe I could pare down a little at a time.

F – Curious

A – Cull some low hanging fruit, think about systems to set up/change that would save time and mental energy

R – I pare down a little at a time.

(That one works 🙂 )

Regarding others’ thoughts:

C – mental load (and what I do/don’t get done as a result)

T – What other people think about me is their Model

F – free

A – go about my own life

R – What other people think about me is their Model

 

So what I’m trying to get at with all this gobbledygook, which is meaningful to me but maybe not so much to you, is that 1) I can control my Feelings about all the tasks to be undertaken in an adult life by my Thoughts, and 2) whatever anyone else feels about me as a result is from THEIR OWN Thoughts about the issue, and is not within my control to change.  So: do I need to let mental load be such a problem?  I think I can work on my thoughts to feel more positively about the many things I choose to do in my life.  And maybe part of that IS to pare down/streamline.  And maybe some of it is simply to shift my thoughts, without changing a thing.

How Can I Love Myself Today?

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I’ve been experimenting with a journal prompt that’s helped me beat myself up a lot less.  So basically, I’m learning, the brain wants to missile-seek answers to questions it’s been asked.  If the question is anything along the lines of why am I so dumb? why can’t I get it together? why am I so fat? etc., then those are the answers it’s going to seek, and those answers feel terrible.  And if those are the questions we ask and the answers we get when trying to lose weight, or start a business, or have a better relationship with anyone, or a million other things, if that’s how we react, we’re going to feel like garbage, and we’re going to quit trying, because who wants to feel like that?!  It’s easier to just watch TV or scroll FB or eat a million Tate’s Bakehouse gluten free cookies (*ahem*).  But we can ask any question we want.  So How can I love myself today? helps me be kind to myself, which makes me more likely to take the actions toward the goals I really want to reach, rather than at each failure (of many) beating the crap out of myself mentally.  It’s working . . . I’m still moving forward.  And it feels a lot better.  Try it.  ❤

Imagining

Autumn on the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail Loop, Minnesota
The view I imagine while stuck in traffic.  Image: Autumn on the Oberg Mountain Hiking Trail Loop, Minnesota by Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0.

I popped Mari’s well-worn CD of Anne of Green Gables into the car stereo this morning and from the first lines was whisked to a comfortable home in my memory. My mom bought this book for me when I traveled with my aunt at the age of 9. Once I got through the wordy descriptions in the first page, I was hooked. I finished it and immediately began reading it again. I read the series countless times over the years, continuing to read it into adulthood on occasion. The books have always been an escape for me; I recall taking an Anne book and my lunch to a park near my engineering job, sitting under a tree and reading to forget work stress for a while.

It was a pleasant way to spend the commute – listening to L.M. Montgomery’s loving descriptions of the natural beauty of Avonlea, every sentence a mark of her craft. The activities of the characters were a reminder of the world pre-technology. Anne fantasized about living near a babbling brook and spending the night in a wild cherry tree; she didn’t spend all her hours with earbuds and a smartphone. Rachel Lynde observed everything that happened in the neighborhood because she wasn’t parked in front of a TV. An 8-mile horse-driven buggy drive was a pleasure, not a time-sucking chore as it can be today in a much faster car. I’m sure there will be a million more examples; I’m only on chapter 2.

For many years, it was my fantasy to live far from the bustle of cities and suburbs, in a country cottage with a large garden and abundant physical and mental space. My parents moved to such a place when I was in college, and on my occasional visits I loved the sounds of the owls at night and roosters and cows early in the morning, the always changing landscapes of the Shenandoah foothills, and the lack of busy-ness. Oh, there was lots to do: painting outbuildings, harvesting berries, making jam, weeding, hanging laundry, painting the long stretches of fences – but there was also time to climb into the hills and marvel at the views, to enjoy a visit with the sociable barn cat, or to just think. For about a decade until upkeep became too much work for my aging parents, it was a much-loved refuge for me from the various cities in which I lived.

When, as of late, I begin to feel a real need for that refuge, I know that I need to step back and reconsider commitments. When home feels less like a cabin and more like a hotel, I know I am too busy. Recently, the fantasies of moving to the country resurfaced, and I asked myself why. It’s been a busy few weeks back to work and school, and we’re all still adjusting: we will adjust. I have given myself the position of always-willing-to-drive mother for Mari and her friends; while this can take a lot of time, there are benefits, such as knowing they are all safe, and the opportunities for conversation in the car. This is also temporary and will likely ease by the end of the winter; after her friends have navigated Minnesota winter roads, I will be more likely to consider them safe drivers.

When I was finishing my grad degree, I realized I had always been waiting for the next stage. As a young child, like many kids, I always wanted to be older. In high school, I couldn’t wait to get to college. The rapid, always-changing pace of college suited me, but I was eager to finish. The summer job I had between college and grad school was perfect in that within a few weeks I was ready to be a student again. And then I was done — I moved across the country and I was on my own… to discover that the grass was not as green as I had expected.  After a couple of years I just wanted out of the corporate world. I realized that there was always something to be finished, always something new to begin that probably wasn’t going to match my expectations.

The stress of this time will pass, and I will have some fond memories of it. Doing what I can now to make each day enjoyable for all of us will give us each a better time now and better memories in the future. And part of making every day better for all of us means giving myself more breaks.

A year ago I read the idea of a “20-minute daily vacation” in Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock.  It’s time to implement it!

On this chilly, rainy May Saturday,

I awoke uninspired and unexcited.  It wasn’t the weather’s fault, and I knew that.  The only thing making this a less than perfect day was my own mind, which, admittedly, was slow and fogged after less than optimal sleep and yesterday’s excess of rich and salty potluck food.

Still, it was pouring rain and about 40 degrees, and there would be no eating breakfast on the porch while listening to the birds, or visiting our neighbor’s friendly cat on my morning walk, or feeling the warmth and seeing the golden tints of the sun.

I enjoy a nice rainy day that encourages me to stay inside… most of the time.  That is, when I haven’t spent nearly every day of the past 6 months mostly indoors.  But I managed to turn today around – again, in my own mind – and enjoy the rain.  A friend stopped by for tea and a long chat.  Thom vacuumed, and I purged the bookshelves and switched around the summer and winter clothing.  I sorted through papers with a purring cat on my lap while smelling the baking bread.

It’s going to rain more tonight, and I look forward to listening to the drops hitting the roof and windows, while I cozily lounge with a book.  It’s going to rain more tomorrow, and I will think of the seeds in my garden that hopefully will sprout, and the trees that need all this water for their new leaves.

Scarcity v. Abundance

Scarcity v Abundance.png

I’ve been pondering a concept lately and that is the idea of financial abundance deriving from frugality or a scarcity mindset, and that of financial abundance deriving from an abundance mindset.

For years, I doggedly pursued frugality as paramount.  I was on message boards where frugality was held up as THE way to early retirement.  Basically, spend ONLY in accordance with your values so that you retain as much as you possibly can in order to liberate yourself from outside employment.  And then often, it became in my mind: spend as little as possible for the sake of doing so.  Case in point:  I was in therapy after my son was born for post-partum depression and part of what was stressing me out that particular day was that we were always arguing about supper – what to have, who would make it, etc.  We were both working full-time in high-demand, moderately high-income jobs with an infant at home.  It was tough in many ways, but we had plenty of income.  When the therapist suggested that we buy an assortment of convenience meals, salad fixings, etc., I remember thinking and maybe even saying, “but that will cost so much money!”  And it was kind of a wake-up call.  I was punishing and stressing myself out for no good reason.  We had tons of resources right in that moment, and I was thinking thoughts that made me feel like a pauper.

With that, I started to spend. I did almost a 180 on spending.  I started buying and even had my word for the next year be “permission,” mainly to get over the feeling that I was not supposed to spend any money at all, OR any money without consulting with my husband, even though I actually earned more money than him.  (Mind you – none of this imposed by my husband.  Allllll me.).

Since I’ve joined The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program, I’ve been exploring money concepts and thoughts again.  Brooke, like many others, teaches about creating feelings based on thoughts of abundance.  I’m not yet super clear on how to apply this to my own life.  I’m not over the idea of early retirement espoused in the voluntary simplicity literature and movement.  I find it very appealing.  But for me, it’s always been about escaping the work world, about NOT having the freedom and fancy-free life I imagine I’d have when early-retired.

So I guess one way I’m trying to live the idea of abundance versus scarcity is in thinking about the business I plan to start (website is still a skeleton, ‘kay?) and WHY.  Initially, it was for reasons like freedom, not to have a boss, etc.  Just like for ER, those reasons are to escape something.  It won’t work.  I will find some other way to feel restricted or constrained in my business.  So I’m trying to envision what I HAVE that I can bring to the business, not what I’m trying to GET.  I will serve.  I will bring my experiences to share with others.  I have everything I need right now, so I don’t need the business to be anything more than that right now.  And from there, I will not be focusing on what I DON’T have, I’ll be focusing on what I DO have.  And even if my trajectory takes the same amount of time, I will feel so much better along the way.

I do have one old and funny story about this, though.  I dated soooo many guys in the ten years leading up to getting married.  Obviously none of them worked out, for so many reasons.  So one day I’d had it.  I threw my hands up – I was DONE dating.  And didn’t go on the dating sites, and quit looking at every man as a potential partner I had to impress, and did my own thing (including, LOL, paying down a ton of debt and locking in some of those frugal behaviors).  Anyway, it was then that my now-husband asked me out.  And I’d known him for 2 years!  But I was never able to see what was right in front of me for focusing on what I DIDN’T have – a good boyfriend.  It was when I released the scarcity that I was able to get the best boyfriend.  ❤ ❤ ❤

I am still finding my way with this concept.  What are your thoughts?

Escape the All or Nothing Trap

 

And_As_the_Door_Stood_Open
Goldilocks thoroughly explored the porridge options.

It seems silly, but when weighing choices I often have to remind myself to look for a central position. Why is that? So much that we experience and absorb every day falls into what I call the All or Nothing Trap.

I suspect that All or Nothing school activities are not unique to our area. Our experience is that the schedule of most activities prevents students from trying more things at an age when they should be exploring many interests – because in another 10 years, they will have graduated from college and will be following their chosen career paths. Experiencing different opportunities in their teens would facilitate that career choice by showing them what they enjoy as well as some of the choices that they can select. There are many career paths outside of the default, but many students never learn of them until they are deep into the major they have already selected. Statistics I’ve seen for 4-year college graduation rates, and even 6-year graduation rates, are quite low. I wonder how much this might change if more students chose a major that was a good fit, the first time.

All-consuming careers push many people into exploring voluntary simplicity or early retirement (or at least fantasizing about it). For over a decade, I worked in jobs that consumed all my energy and brainpower most days. The last position was so extreme that I felt like a shell of a person, even unable to unwind on weekends that seemed to revolve around preparing for the coming workweek. I often talk with people in whom I recognize that same career exhaustion; it is clearly sustainable for some. We weren’t ready for early retirement, but I also needed a new path. It is more difficult to get a position in a new career path than in a proven one, but it was worth the time and effort. I enjoy my current job very much – and I also enjoy being able to spend more time with my family and friends and pursue my hobbies.

Our society demonstrates the all-or-nothing trap in other areas, too. Politics, anyone? The enmity shown between the parties, and the lack of will to collaborate or cooperate even on topics that should be easy for everyone to support, is reprehensible. Or how about the topic of health and nutrition? There will always be some new diet or supplement with its devotees and detractors; this is evident in comparing today’s magazine articles and ads to those of the late 1800s.

It is a small thing, but just remembering that there might be an alternative to All or Nothing removes some pressure, opens a door, and invites creative thinking.

Thoughts on Planning

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I’m feeling a need to do some reflecting on the practice of planning.

I am a member and/or current devotee of three main personal growth programs.  First, The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program (owned by Brooke Castillo) which has a monthly mindset focus.  Secondly, the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, a year long cohort program to help teachers maximize their time to find peace and be more efficient.  I’ve completed the year but it is so dense and amazing I have rejoined the Graduate program to eek out more value.  Last, I also closely follow Phit N Phat, a weight loss coaching program whose Queen Corinne trained with The Life Coach School, so the philosophies are similar.  While these programs may vary in topic, there is a strong thread connecting them:  effective, intentional PLANNING.

I hate to think of all the years I wasted pursuing a willy nilly approach.  And really, I actively pursued it.  In fact, in college I was a good planner, kind of natural.  The problem was that I also overdid it.  I overpacked my days and I got shit DONE.  I was in a go-go-go mode from about 18-25 years old.  Folks, no one should be burned out at 25.  So I turned to voluntary simplicity readings and study.  And I started cancelling things.  And scheduling less.  And slowing, and flowing.  And often, not planning anything.  And some of that was a gift – until sometimes it wasn’t.  Because in teaching, you can’t really just wing it.  And I tried.  (My poor students.)  I even left the classroom, thinking in a coaching role I could be less regimented with time during my workday.  It was somewhat true, but I also felt I was doing nothing many days.

Once I had kids, I started to really realize I had to make some changes.  I HATED planning meals, planning activities (especially on the weekends), planning basically anything.  And what that got me was being on childcare duty all the time, because my husband DID make plans, and have ideas of what he wanted to accomplish in a weekend, and since I didn’t, he went ahead and did his thing.  And I didn’t like that.  I was also rushing, frantic, and unprepared most of the time at work and at home.  I had to make a change.

It started about a year ago, first with the 40HTW Club.  I was also part of a mandatory coaching program that all probationary educators go through at work, so there was a huge focus on planning there.  We grouped our tasks by time periods (before school, mid day, after school, evening) instead of making strict appointments for each task.  We identified the main task to be done in order to do it first to feel the pride and reduced stress around having that done.  And that started to work!

In the spring, I found Phit N Phat and started planning what I would eat the next day and evaluate how well I’d stuck to the current day’s plan.  And I started to lose weight!

I was starting to like planning again!  It was getting me results, reducing my stress . . . then came September.

I joined Self Coaching Scholars six months ago and the whole focus of one month – September – was to plan out an “impossible” task per Brooke’s scheduling and planning system.  Basically, in this system you break down the whole task, you schedule every component into a set time, and you don’t allow yourself to exceed the time scheduled.  So I did this.  I scheduled the whole ambitious task for the month, and right away realized I hadn’t planned enough time in each slot, and also who-knows-what happened with the kids and I started to miss slots (ANATHEMA to the approach because really, that’s not honoring myself and my word) and got hopelessly behind and did NOT accomplish my planned goal.  So instead of having the desired effect, which was that we would build a ton of confidence and buy in for the planning system, it had the opposite effect for me, which was to confirm for me what I had been (mis)thinking for years – that planning is hard, that it is impossible to follow a plan, and that if you have kids you can forget even trying to have a plan.

I kind of threw up my hands on all personal planning, but did stick to the work stuff.  Thank God, because one day in October or November, I had nothing to do.  Unheard of.  I was caught up.  I was planned ahead.  And I knew I had to revisit planning once more for myself and my outside-of-work dreams.

Well, a few months later, I am realizing I perhaps overdid it in September.  I think I tried to do WAY too much, and didn’t acknowledge my limitations.  I have a new “impossible” goal, and I want to keep making progress toward it, even if in baby steps.  So I’m studying Brooke’s approach further.  She advocates:  scheduling your free time FIRST.  So one thing where I was mistaken in September was that I scheduled the whole month solid – not only did I choose that “impossible” task but it was our first month back in school!  What was I thinking?!  Ok, so now, there will be no scheduling of anything after bedtime.  It just won’t get done.  Or in the morning before school.  And, I don’t want to work all weekend on regimented stuff.  So that will be protected too.

One confusion I have looking forward is that also in Brooke’s system is that you weekly do a brain dump of all the to-dos rattling around in there, and then you schedule time on your calendar to do it throughout the week.  And then you throw away the brain dump list.  Well, I did my first one and cleared out SEVEN PAGES of to-dos.  I can’t do that all in a week – so then what?  Do I put it all back in my brain?  So another part of my planning evolution is that I need to make it work for me, not blindly adhere to any guru’s approach.  So, I need to have a running to-do list bank for a while until I whittle it down/eliminate some stuff from it.  That’s ok.  I will do that.  I had one going that I hadn’t updated in a while and so it must be time to do that if I had seven pages worth in there!

I think my very biggest thought work and logistics item is where to actually find time to do anything beyond my 8-4 and co-run the household.  We have two young children, and three aging parents – and two of them live an hour away.  I have an autoimmune disorder that is under great control right now and sleep is paramount in maintaining that.  My personal goals feel so insignificant in comparison to this day to day pressure.  I am puzzled about where to find more time.  I may add an afternoon a week of after school care for my oldest who is at my school so I can have an hour to do some business work.  I may do a go-out session every weekend to get some focused work time on it.  So I have a few ideas, but they involve escaping my family, so I don’t feel great about that.  But I also think it could be preferable to what I’m doing now, which is trying to sneak time, diverting my attention from them, parking the kids in front of the TV, and really getting not much of anything done anyway in the end.

Also, I need to make the weekly scheduling process inviolable.  If I reference my brain, my bank of tasks and actually DO make a realistic weekly schedule, I WILL start to honor it, make progress, reduce the amount of pending items, and feel better overall.

I’ll keep you updated!  Thanks for reading my novel!  It helped to write it.