Many of you already know this, but I've got rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, two conditions that cause chronic pain. They also make it far more likely that I'll get things like bursitis, which is an inflammatory condition of the bursa.
Lately, they've been ganging up on me, including bringing along a case of bursitis in both hips. As a result, I spend much of my time with aches and pains and stiffness pretty much all over - kind of like an accident victim who's got the flu.
Not fun. I know. That is not, however, the point of this post.
The thing about having chronic conditions like this (and others, like chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, MS, and more) is that they require you to make adjustments. Lots of them. What used to be a do-able list before I got sick has been completely out of the question for more than a decade now.
The thing is, what used to be a do-able list before things started to flare (already a smaller list than a "normal" person might undertake) has been completely out of the question for a couple months now. And truly, it's frustrating as hell. I can reach the end of a day and wonder if I got anything done at all. And if that frustration piles up enough, it can make for a pretty down day (or week - you get the idea).
Lately, though, I've been focusing more on the small triumphs. I think it's for two reasons, and I figured I'd talk about it here, in hopes that those of you with your own struggles (whether based in a chronic condition or some other wrench that life has thrown at you) might find a way to feel a little better, too.
As I posted ten days ago, I've started practicing mindfulness meditation. I'm still working on it, and I'm by no means an expert, but one of the articles I found about it at Prevention Magazine.com has been a big help. Entitled "Three Weird New Ways to Meditate", it's right up my alley. In particular, I've been practicing the third one, the sleeping meditation. The first step involves playing back the events of the day in order - sort of like watching a short film of your day go by. Doing this allows me to see how many things I got done even on a slow day, like folding laundry, maybe, or cleaning the powder room or cooking dinner for my sweetheart and/or M. Those are the sorts of things that I don't necessarily take note of, especially if they don't take a long time or a lot of energy.
The other day, I'd have told you that all I did was go to the doctor's office and nap, but my playback allowed me to realize that I'd done two loads of laundry, emptied the dishwasher, stopped at the grocery store for a handful of items, stopped at the pharmacy for a prescription, cooked a good dinner for my beloved and my kid, and written a blog post. There was probably more, really, but you get the picture.
The mindfulness meditation allows me to see my days more clearly, which is a huge benefit. Even if that list isn't as long as it might otherwise have been, and I didn't get nearly as much done as I might have liked, I can see that I accomplished things, and that is a good feeling. It's one I'm working on honoring throughout the day, as each little thing gets crossed off my to-do list, especially after reading a fabulous article by Lillian Cunningham in the Washington Post, entitled "Exhaustion is Not a Status Symbol". Well, ain't that the truth?
Cunningham interviewed Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly and other books, for the article. In it, one of the things Brown discusses is "the burden of not getting enough done".
The expectations of what we can get done, and how well we can do it, are beyond human scale.While Brown is discussing how changes can be made by managers and other leaders to acknowledge the completion of tasks and make an employee feel valued, this resonated HARD with me. Too often I cross something off the list and immediately see what other item needs work, rather than giving myself a moment to savor the fact that something is now crossed off my list.
And because there's always this readily available technology and you can get your emails all night long, there's no stopping and celebrating or acknowledging the accomplishment of anything. Instead of feeling pride or recognition, what everyone is instead made to feel is, "Thank God, I can get to the next thing on my list."
Brown also discusses "the perils of being a perfectionist," something I'm unfortunately a bit too familiar with. (You too? I'd say I'm surprised, but . . . )
When I interviewed really successful leaders, what I expected to hear was a lot of perfectionism. But what I heard consistently was, “I do not attribute my success to perfectionism. In fact, it’s the thing that I have to watch the most, because it will stop me from getting work done.”I have combined my new mindfulness practice and the tidbits of advice I picked up from Cunningham's article in the past few days, and it has made for a happier me. One who takes a minute to celebrate getting items off my list as I go, whether it's with a happy dance, a quick check of email and/or Facebook, another cup of tea, or a quiet, calm moment to simply do nothing. One who takes time to replay her day and observe the successes, whether large or tiny. One who takes time to acknowledge all the small triumphs.
Healthy striving is about striving for internal goals, and wanting to be our best selves. Perfectionism is not motivated internally. Perfectionism is about what people will think. And you do not see effective leaders in corporations sitting on an email for three hours to make sure it’s worded just perfectly. You don’t. They have work to get done.
You don’t see elite athletes letting themselves be discouraged by a bad workout or a single bad performance. It happens all the time. They’re accustomed to winning, they’re accustomed to losing. Once perfectionism becomes the goal, they’re out of the sport. I couldn’t find a single example, when we talk about what perfectionism really is, where it serves us in leadership or in getting work done.