Flat Spots, March Madness, and Sinking Boats

For some very strange reason, this happens to me every March.  The stars align.  My personal, professional, and academic worlds collide.  I find myself in my own private March Madness.  This past week, I have had giant papers due in my Masters program, grades due for my students’ report cards, and various other major commitments that have managed to fall on the exact same date and time as other major commitments, all being too important to miss.  It’s been a perfect storm.

And I’ll be honest, I’ve not been dealing with it all as well as I’d like.  In the midst of my perfect storm, I’m feeling like I’m sitting in a boat that’s sprung a leak – I’m baling water out of my boat, but not nearly fast enough.  It feels like I’m sinking.  The feeling I dread more than any other is one of overwhelm as it triggers in me a death spiral of other fears and negative thought patterns.

In counseling a long while ago, my counselor would talk about “flat spots.”   Using a perfect circle as a metaphor for my personality, character, and other areas of personal development, a “flat spot” is an area that for one reason or another (usually trauma or emotional damage) hasn’t developed as fully as other areas.  Everyone has them, but recognizing specifically what mine are can help me grow past them. Flat spots cause areas of blindness or weakness in how I deal with specific sets of circumstances in my life.  They can cause conflict with other people because of weaknesses in the skill set needed to appropriately deal with specific behavioral triggers – hence my blow up a couple weekends ago.

The flat spot that’s giving me grief this past week:  my perfectionism.

I’ve been stuck in a destructive thought pattern of

“perfect” performance = love and acceptance

You wouldn’t really know it to look at me, but I’m a perfectionist.  I need that “good girl” pat on the head that comes with what I perceive as a job well-done.   I need the validation.  And I’m saying the word ‘need’ because of my flat spot.  In reality, I don’t need outside validation.  In reality, I can do a great job on what’s expected of me without a pat on the head.  I’m not going to die or resort to a sub-standard quality of work without it.  But somewhere in my life I became dependent on external validation in order to feel OK about myself.  Hence, my flat spot.  I’m working on it, but it’s still fairly flat.

When circumstances get to the point where I fear I can’t do my best work or my best performance, when I feel (and fear) I’m at risk of losing that “good girl” pat-on-the-head validation, I get overwhelmed and begin to emotionally shut down ahead of my perceived unavoidable loss.

Last night though, I was able to gain a bit of clarity.  I guess there’s something about deadlifting weights, rocking the handstand push-up,  and running backward down a dark city street that helps me see things differently.  And if that’s the case, I thank God for Crossfit.

After I was done with my workout, I realized my flat spots cause me to take myself too seriously.  They cause a blindness in me, dimming my focus down to only the drudgery of the task at hand, robbing me of any fun and happiness that’s around me.  My flat spots also cause me to have little faith in the people I have chosen to surround myself with in that I place upon them my perception and fear of being unloving toward me if I don’t perform up to a standard that I myself have created.  That is just bonkers, not to mention being really unfair to my loved ones.

The good thing is I do realize I have a choice in how I think, regardless of how entrenched I am in the thinking pattern.  I can choose to act, think, be different than I have been.  There is nothing locking me into the pattern but me.

Getting out of the pattern has to be an active pattern of change.  El Jefe tells me to get violent in how I attack the negative pattern, that since I’m so great at tearing myself down, why don’t I use that same energy to annihilate the thought pattern?  I can turn the negative pattern on itself.  I think that’s great advice.  Plus I get to do more ninja kicks!

If I can gain a moment of clarity before I slip into overwhelm, or into my pattern of perfectionism, or into my fear of losing a pat-on-the-head, I can definitely make a different choice than stepping into this sinking boat again.  And maybe this can be my last and final March Madness ever.

Hey, Thanks!

As I strategically work toward a happier existence, I feel like the direction happiness takes in my life is actually more outside of myself than I originally anticipated.  Though I didn’t go into this project of mine with a heart full of selfishness or a focus explicitly on myself, I also didn’t expect how so much of my happiness is connected to how I live in conjunction with others.  It’s a happy discovery!

I was thinking today about the words, “Thank you.”

I crack up sometimes when I hear folks from generations older than mine talking about the good ol’ days when kids had manners and said “please” and “thank you.”  Sometimes I envision what it would sound like if they started yelling, “Git off my lawn, you whippersnapper!”  And when I’m done with my disrespectful giggle, I think about how it’s not just kids that don’t say thanks enough, it’s me too.

When someone genuinely says “Thank you” to me for something, it feels good.  It validates what I’m doing, shows me I’m on the right track, and encourages me to act more in that same manner.  It’s a mood-booster, especially when I allow myself to take it in.  When I give a heart felt “Thank you” to others, it validates and it puts into action what I’m feeling – gratitude – feelings of gratitude are good, positive feelings.  But more importantly for the receiver, it is a moment of validation that someone appreciates what they are doing and encourages them in their efforts.  A well expressed “Thank you” is a win/win – it makes both the giver and the receiver feel good.  I like that.  Expressing gratitude to others ultimately makes me happier because I enjoy helping others feel good about themselves.

Often times I feel gratitude to someone on the inside, but not often enough express it on the outside.  Getting in the habit of saying a genuine, look-you-in-the-eye-and-smile “Thank you” is a goal of mine, since gratitude is a big piece of contentment and thus, happiness.  But also, because it’s just a good practice.  Showing gratitude to others builds reporte, adds to relational “bank accounts,” and gives much needed encouragement.  Plus, it’s not that difficult to do.

With all that said, I’ve set a specific goal for myself in showing gratitude to others.  I am going to make it a point to give an authentic show of gratitude to someone at least once a day.  My impulse was to start with more, but I want to make an achievable goal that I can reach then shoot higher as time goes on.

One authentic touch of gratitude – a heart felt thank you.  A note.  A phone call.  A hug.  A well said word.  A kiss.  A high five.  Expressions of gratitude are simple and don’t take much time at all.  But it sure feels good and connects me to others in a positive way.  And that makes me so happy.

If You Had To Say Goodbye Today

A good friend of mine sent me and another friend a text on the way home from work today that read:

Doing CPR on a motorcycle accident at Avalon.  Scary because I remember the guy passing by me.  Ugh.

And suddenly a flurry of texts in response:

You are doing CPR???
Do you need me to come back your way?
Dang!  Get off your iPhone!

To which, thankfully, the response was:

What?  No!  I was sitting stopped in traffic.  It was really disturbing.   Paramedics are there, but no police yet.  My text came out jumbled.

The texts continued, grateful my friend was safe, but we were all shaken by the event.  The comment was made that the poor motorcyclist was probably thinking about normal stuff on the ride home – what to have for dinner, what bills need to be paid, calling his mom… and all that changed in a flash.

It is my goal to value my life more on a day to day, moment by moment basis.  To live my life’s width as well as its length.  To treasure what I have through contentment  which also brings greater happiness.  The journey toward my goal is part of the reason for this blog.  I do feel as though I am making positive strides in that direction.  But it always stuns me into reality of what is truly important and what is truly not important when faced with my mortality or the mortality of others.    For example:

  • What I went ballistic about over the weekend?  Not important.
  • Telling/showing/living out how I love my family, my husband, my friends?  Important/Crucial.
  • Traffic on the 405 to and from work nearly everyday?  Not important.  Seriously, the ride is comfy and climate-controlled, I’ve got all the music in the world to listen to… why do I complain so much about a  few extra minutes?
  • Taking and maintaining a grateful attitude for my job, my health, my freedoms, my relationships?  Important/Crucial.

Why does it take a profound, frightening moment to slap me back to these completely comprehensible truths?  Why do I allow myself to get so complacent, as if with a sense of entitlement, that my life will always be as it is in this moment?  Every day, every breath is a gift, not a given.  Living each moment of my life as a fully present participant, taking time to stop and be grateful for everything I’ve been given, and keeping my focus on what’s most important to me in my life should be my top priorities, period.

What if today was your last day on earth?

The motorcyclist perished in that accident.  If he had known today was his last day on earth, would he have done things differently?  Would I have?  What is it about saying goodbye to others, or leaving myself, that causes a difference in treatment of others?  Wasn’t their value obvious enough before to tell them of it?   Why do I wait to express love, care, respect, kudos until a moment of closure or finality?  Wouldn’t those expressions be sweeter, relationships deepened, if I stated them now?  I’m not promised any more time that this very breath.  Why not show them how I feel now?  Why not live it out now?

I know I’m posing more questions than anything today.  I think perhaps the accident was a galvanizing event for me.   I know now that some things need to change in the way I show people around me that they are loved and valued, and how I live my life in the day to day by not taking anything I have for granted.  It’s not just a shift in thinking.  It must be followed by action – showing appreciation, love, and gratitude.  Giving these things away to others certainly builds them up.  That makes me happier.  Focusing on what’s most important, shutting out the petty, will also undoubtedly add to my happiness.  Today.  It happens now.  Now, as it’s all I’ve got in my hands.