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When I was pregnant with my first child, the wild nature of birth terrified me.
One way or another, a human would be exiting my body. Whether it happened in a worst or best case scenario, it was going to happen and there was little I could do to control it.
Me being me, I did my best to exert control over the process regardless. But the thing about labor and birthing is that at some point, you can do little more than hang on for dear life and just get through it. There could be panic or calm, screaming or simply breathing. You don’t know until you’re in it.
With my last baby, I let the process take place. Now, to be clear: this isn’t a debate about birth methods, or what is and isn’t the right way to bring a child into the world. Everybody is different. In my case, I wanted to let my body do its thing as much as I could manage. I was a lot more comfortable with my body by that point, and he would likely be my last baby.
He showed up 9 days after my due date, which was an exercise in patience all by itself. It was scary and uncomfortable and painful, but it was also amazing. I let my body do its thing, and it did. Not everybody who wants to experience it can, so I’m grateful.
My default setting is to obsessively control everything I possibly can. Make a checklist, do the routine, follow the plan and everything will be ok. Everybody will be happy. I set up a million rules so I can focus on something, anything other than the really important things.
Some things just can’t be controlled. Birth is one. Personal growth is another.
There’s a place for planning and routine, but no planner or calendar can “fix” us. They are tools, notmedications. Even at my worst, I cooked organic meals, did crafts with my children, and exercised regularly. Yet I still drank away my feelings to avoid the hard work of being honest with myself.
I had to face reality and do the hard work, not the busy work.
When I’m feeling unsettled and anxious, it’s usually because I’m avoiding something. My anxiety disappears as soon as I consciously decide to trust the process of growth and do the hard things.
5 things that can help refocus when you’re getting overwhelmed:
1) Review the day (or week, or month).
Did I do my part in whatever arrangements I have with people? Am I contributing?
Do I owe anybody (including myself) any apologies, recognition, or focused attention?
What am I grateful for today?
What are my real goals, and why do I ultimately want to achieve them? Are my motives lined up with the principles I want to guide my life?
Everybody does this in different ways, but I have to journal. When it comes to this kind of contemplation, nothing beats the old-fashioned pen and paper for me.
In AA, they call this “taking a daily inventory”, although it’s a useful practice whether or not you’re in recovery. My natural inclination is to avoid these uncomfortable check-ins, but forcing myself to do them is a great way to lower anxiety and actually work through it. Morning journaling and contemplation is also helpful, but that one usually has a different purpose for me.
2) Set up accountability.
The best accountability is a mix of supportive peers as well as friends that are further along the journey in whatever area you also want to improve. This is the combination that will give tough love, encouragement, and education.
I have accountability groups for business, health, and sobriety. Social media can be great for this, but like anything, it can be a hit or miss. It’s about finding your people, not a platform.
Ideally, I’d recommend finding or putting together a private accountability group to allow you to really let it out and be vulnerable. We need the freedom to be ourselves around people who will allow us space for that, and also hold us accountable to who we need and want to ultimately be.
3) Trust the process.
Growth is messy, uncomfortable, exhilarating, and terrifying. You can’t really get around all of that, and you shouldn’t even if you could. Some days are better than others. Bad days don’t mean that you failed at your goals, and good days don’t mean that you are now completely bulletproof forever. It’s a process.
We can’t do everything every day. It’s not practical or healthy. The world won’t end if we just do a few things, or maybe (gasp) no things every now and then. In a practical sense, that means giving yourself grace. Review your day, tackle the hard things, and then give yourself permission to rest. Let the rest of it go until tomorrow.
There’s a beauty to starting over the next day. We get second chances.
4) Don’t make excuses.
Don’t make excuses for poor performance, lack of initiative, or plain laziness. Give yourself a break if you really need it, and then get back to work.
Even though I say planning doesn’t fix everything, don’t misunderstand; I absolutely believe in the power of planning. This is where accountability really stands out. We can flip between being too hard on ourselves or too relaxed, and we can justify laziness by labeling it self-care. We can work too much, neglect our health, and think that we’re “killing it”.
Whatever extreme we’re on, don’t make excuses for why you’re there. Whether I’m excusing my laziness or justify my workaholism, the results are the same: I’m emotionally stagnant.
5) Pay it forward.
If you have people around you that see this and can call you out on it (in whatever way works for you), go thank them. Now. Then, make sure you’re that kind of person for the people in your life. Be the person that they can call, count on for support, and trust completely. If you need that from others, be that for them.
Something beautiful happens when we stop focusing internally and start lending a hand. All of a sudden, all of our past mistakes and lessons have a purpose. I may have been through some ridiculous stuff (some I created, some I didn’t), but now I can help others going through similar things. It’s a real blessing.
Most importantly: Growth is not a simple step by step map.
This is not an obsessive checklist to do the “right way”. Sometimes I’ll do one of them, sometimes all of them at once. Sometimes I will take the entire day and do everything I need to do for myself, and then other times I’ll go a week without doing any of this (and oh boy, do I feel the difference). Consistency is important, and it’s not my strength yet. But as they say: progress, not perfection.
The important thing is, are you better today than you were last year?
What helps you get back to focusing on the hard work of growth instead of the distraction of busywork?
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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