Better & Bolder, the Blog

Enough


Ah, glorious spring! I spent time outside yesterday, soaking up the sun, working in the yard, and as I did so, dear readers, I thought of you. I thought: I’m gonna remind them about enough.

Twenty minutes in the garden isn’t enough to do all that’s necessary to clear out the dead leaves and make ready for spring. But twenty minutes may be just enough to do in one day. In twenty minutes of bending, I’ll feel the effort the next day. If I keep going and going, the next day my hamstrings will be moaning and groaning. 

There’s something very satisfying about making progress in one’s yard or garden. We want to finish a task; we want to see the results. If doing a little feels good, doing a lot feels better. We’ve all experienced that. We go back for seconds. We buy another pair of shoes. All of that’s okay as long as we keep track of enough.

Many of us strive for excellence, so “good enough” becomes a perjorative. There’s a great value in doing just enough. Though this whole week will be glorious, sunny, and warm, we’re not even in April yet and snow may be ahead. The winter debris in our gardens will continue to protect the plants from frost if we leave enough. We can focus on the “good” in “good enough,” reminding ourselves that achieving that balance -- not too much, not too little, just enough -- is an art form, one that takes attention and excellence to achieve. 

This article by Martha Beck is quite a delight. (Then again, maybe you’ve had enough reading for today. Maybe you’ve had enough time on the computer right now.)

Happy, beautiful spring, everyone. May we all have enough!

Positive


Health magazine in its April 2012 issue ran a lovely article on “How to Talk Positive to Yourself.” What author calls the “art of self-kindness” is also the art of paying attention. 

We are “biologically programmed” to pay attention to negative experiences so we can learn from them and not let the same thing happen again. In fact, the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that is “wired to remember negative moments most keenly,” is larger in women than in men. 

It’s good to pay attention to mistakes and to be alert to dangerous situations. What’s less helpful is when we create stories based on those experiences, especially stories in which we make huge leaps and generalizations, such as “Oh, I always do that” or “This is why I’m such a terrible person.” This type of thinking can prevent us from seeing how we can change things so we don’t repeat that mistake. 

The article lists 9 concrete strategies for dealing with negative self-talk and below are my comments on each one. 

1. Put negative stuff in a box. In this way, we not only learn to set aside something negative -- hey, I made a mistake, it happened, move on -- but we also learn to keep it small. That one mistake doesn’t define us. It was just a mistake.

2. Try the power of possible thinking. Instead of thinking about what you’ve done wrong, even if you’ve done it again and again, imagine the future in which you do not do that thing wrong. To get there, you’ll need neutral language, such as goal-setting language, to take you from “I’m so horrible at keeping my house clean” to “I want to have a cleaner kitchen. I can make a goal to sweep my kitchen after the evening meal. I’ll put on music to motivate me.”

3. Ask yourself if you’re really so guilty. Was it such a horrible thing? Was it something humans do and you are, after all, human? Dunn writes, “Make the choice to be kind to yourself.” One way to do this is to put it back in perspective and remember that other people probably don’t care. I got a FaceBook message from someone I knew in high school. She wasn’t a close friend; we knew each other casually. She apologized for putting me down, and though I thanked her for the apology, I let her know that I had no memory at all of the event she described. For 25 years, she’d felt bad about what she’d said, and it hadn’t even registered with me.

4. Put a better spin on things. This is the difference between “I am fat” and “I feel fat.” One defines me. The other describes a feeling I have about myself, and that feeling can be easily, radically, and quickly changed.

5. Ask: What would my best friend say? It’s gonna be way nicer than what you’re saying and probably way more realistic.

6. Give your inner critic a name (preferably a silly one). That is, don’t take this negative voice too seriously.

7. Give your rants a name, too. Distinguish between a truth, which is neutral and contains good and bad, and a story. Those negative rants are just stories. 

8. Pick up the phone. Sometimes, we really did do something wrong. Tell someone. If an apology needs to happen, do it. If we just need to confess to our best friend, do it. Get it off your chest and out of your head. 

9. Embrace your imperfections. Perfectionism isn’t yummy. 

Finally, we cultivate the art of paying attention to the good stuff. Dunn writes, “At night, when you’re going over your day in your head, force yourself to start with what went well, says psychologist Tamar E. Cansky, PhD, even if it’s just one thing. The more you tick off your little successes, the more your retrained brain will point them out to you.” 

If you’re going through a down period, day after negative day, keep an achievement journal. Write down 5 things you did well that day, whether it was ate a salad for lunch, got to bed on time, complimented a friend, or perhaps complimented yourself. These don’t have to be major achievements, just something you know you did right. Keep your ratio of positive and negative comments at 5:1, five positive for every one negative, for a healthy relationship with yourself.


Choose


I love a new dress. I love new shoes. I love new jewelry.

I do not necessarily love a new website. I was pretty darn happy with the site I had before. Apple no longer supports websites, and that site goes dark at the end of this month. I was compelled to buy a new site, and I didn't enjoy the search. Searching for a new dress? Fun, interesting. Searching for a new web developer and host? Out of my comfort zone. What if I made the wrong choice? 

You and I both know what would happen if I made the wrong choice. I'd just choose again. 

I've made the wrong choice buying a dress or shoes or jewelry all the time. Sometimes it's a minor regret, such as when it's an $8 item from Savers. Sometimes, I've spent $100 on something and then realized it really wasn't for me or I didn't really love it. Bummer. 

We make millions of choices a day -- when to wake up, what to do first. Heck, I have a few different shampoos in my shower and I choose which one to use. (Truth: I have a favorite, and it's expensive, so I use it only a few times a month. Humans are so funny.) 

Choosing plane tickets is the worst. Maybe there's a better deal if I keep hunting? Do I really want that flight at that time? Perhaps it's the amount of money being spent, so even if the details are small (leave at 8 am or at 9:30 am), I delay the choice to optimize the experience. Once that decision is made, I feel such relief. Each time I have to remind myself: just buy the darn thing and get it over with. Do an hour of research and then, poof, make it happen. If I really need to, for a price, I can change that ticket. How much is my time worth? If I spend seven hours researching a flight, have I saved any money?

When we make a choice, we engage our rational minds, for sure, and we also have to engage our gut. For those poor souls who have lost their ability to connect to their emotions due to a brain injury, they can't choose anymore. See Jonah Lehrer's book How We Decide for more about this research.

Why some choices cause us more stress than others isn't always clear to us (this article by Lehrer explains one of the dynamics), but the end is the same. We get what we choose, evaluate whether it works for us, and modify as we go. 

Here's the other thing. Once I've made the choice, I can choose to be happy with it. I can choose to enjoy it. Or not. So it was with this blog. For five days, I wondered what to write. It's my first on my new site, so, you know, it better be epic. 

It is epic. It's epic because it's written, which is more than I can say for the five days that didn't produce a blog post. This is a version of Enough, as in Good Enough, as in whatever I choose, there will be good and bad points to that choice. So choose already. Then choose again, and choose to focus on the good.