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One Cobble at a Time

February 24th, 2014

Sandra Tayler's Journal

responsible woman

A cobble by itself is just a small stone, but when many of them lay together they create a path . My life is made up of many discrete parts. I have to find ways to fit them all into place so that I can continue to journey where I desire to go. This journal records some of the cobbles that create my path.

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February 24th, 2014

Yesterday I wrote a little post about focusing on good things instead of messes. The post felt charming and complete to me, so I didn’t want to alter it, even though I knew there was more to be said on the topic of focus. Because changing focus is sometimes no harder than deciding to do it, other times my brain can be uncooperative. As was the auto-focus on the camera was while I was trying to get it to focus on the hot chocolate instead of the spill. It stubbornly kept that spill clear even when the frame was almost entirely full of blurry hot chocolate. I was fortunate that Gleek knew a trick. She put her finger into the frame and the addition of that one new element made the camera immediately re-focus. So when I’m trying to teach my brain to focus on the good things, I’m going to have to use some tools to control the auto focus.

Tool #1 Write the Good Stuff.
I’ve heard people praise gratitude journals as a place to write down the good things of the day. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A list of good things will do. They can be small good things. The very fact that you know you’ll be writing it down later teaches your brain to look for and retain the good things that happen during the day.

Tool #2 Conscious Attention
When anxiety for my kids is eating away at me, I have to spend some time thinking of the qualities that they already possess that are the opposite of my fear for them. Usually to do this I need some quiet space and time where I really think about the kids good qualities. Because writing is how I process my thoughts, I often do this by writing things down. The thing is, once I have that list of good qualities, I can suddenly see how those qualities are express every day. Thirty minutes of conscious attention changes my perspective for days.

Tool #3 Break Your Patterns
Do something outside the usual schedule of your life. It could be going to see a play, visiting a park, taking a jog, lunch with a friend, participating in a service project. When you step outside of what you usually do with your time, it causes all your thoughts to shift around. While your thoughts are shifting, it becomes easier to refocus.

Tool #4 Attend Church or Other Worship Service
Religious services are structured to remind people of grand priorities. They provide a perspective that is sometimes absent from daily life. It is like standing on a hill in the middle of a hike, you can see where you need to go next. I also believe that God is there in those services and he wants you to be happy in your life. He can help you change your focus if you ask. For me, this is really tool #1, but I didn’t want non-religious people who need those other tools to be turned off by seeing the religion focused one first.

Tool #5 Enlist a Friend
If you’re having trouble seeing the good things in your life, have a friend sit down and help you find them. It is possible your life doesn’t have enough good things, then maybe your friend can help you add some.

Tool #6 Seek Additional Help
It is possible that you’re unable to focus on the good things in your life because you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or depression. These things seriously interfere with a person’s ability to feel positive emotions. A therapist or doctor can help you identify if you are depressed and what steps to take next. This may be your situation if logically you can see that you have good things in your life, but you’re unable to feel happy about them.

These are far from the only tools, but they’re a good place to start.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

This changing focus thing is hard. I started the day feeling happy and ready to continue being happy while doing the work in front of me. I was going to do what I could and not blame myself for the rest. But then my intentions met my To Do List and The Schedule. The sad truth is that The Schedule got ahead of me while I was sick and while I’m trying to accept and adjust, there is still a large part of my brain which does not want to fall behind. It tells me I should hurry because there are dire consequences for falling behind and for disappointing people who are depending on me. The voices from that portion of my brain are loud and there were several points in my day where they were ready to take over my worldview. Some examples:

Over the weekend Patch when into hardcore avoidance mode over reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a book assigned by his teacher. Eight times I told him to go read. Eight times I found him ten, twenty, sixty minutes later having done anything except read. It isn’t that he dislikes the book, it is because there are some active reading assignments that go along with it. The easiest way to avoid the assignments was to avoid the book. This morning I sat him down and made him read where I could watch him. I then spoke to him about avoidance and how sometimes our brains will try to avoid things without even letting us know what we’re doing. It was a good learning experience for him. I’m not sorry it happened this way. He’s the one who has to deal with the consequences. (His teacher scolded him.) Yet part of my brain kept measuring chapters read against due dates. It wanted to calculate out a schedule and force Patch to stay on it. It was angry with Patch because his failure to follow through on his assignment meant that I had another thing to track, and I have too many things to track (insert moaning wailing sideline about the impossible nature of my to do list). Changing my focus meant letting all of that go. This assignment isn’t about me, my stress, or my list. It needs to be about Patch and his learning. Incidentally, that focus removes stress from me and allows me to experience more happiness.

Link went back to school for a half day today. He felt great afterward and plans to do a full day tomorrow. I’m glad. Even better, Link is smiling and being cheerful in a way that I have not seen for a month. I remember this guy, he’s clever and fun to be around. In the car on the way home from school, Link told me about his plan to do three assignments. He’s taking charge of his life and his work. He did it too… sort of. One assignment proved impossible because the online resource wasn’t available. He needed to ask questions about a different assignment. Naturally I suggested that he do some different assignments, but that wasn’t how he’d pictured the day. This is where I cue the frantic voice. It knows how much work Link needs to make up. It is frustrated with him that he doesn’t use every minute, or at least a large chunk of time and energy, working to catch up as fast as he can. He doesn’t use lists they way that I do, and he resists my attempts to schedule for him. He has so much to do, and I have to keep track of it all (cue wailing moan about the impossible nature of my to do list here). Truth be told, I was struggling with this with Link even before he got sick. Link’s ways are not my ways and I have to back off and let him learn what works and what doesn’t. But that is hard when I have a worst-case-scenario scene generator running on overtime in the back of my head. I have to let this be his challenge, not mine.

This afternoon Howard was working on his last push to complete Marginalia for LOTA. He got to The Keep and called me because he was missing a preliminary sketch he’d done. We both remembered where it should be, but it wasn’t there. It wasn’t in any of the other places either. I activated my full finding-things capabilities. This usually results in finding all the missing items. This time, nothing. I was coming up blank. I was ready to feel bleak about this. It was all my fault. I should be better. I should search harder. I should not have misplaced it. (Though I didn’t. In no way was this my fault, but that voice does not use much logic.) It was so very hard to do a reasonable amount of searching and then say “Sorry. I can’t find it.” Then leave it be. Truth be told, I did a little bit more than reasonable searching before I said it. When I did, Howard shared some frustration with me. WITH me. We were both frustrated together because somehow this one paper was missing. We could be annoyed without having to blame anyone in particular. Howard wasn’t blaming me and, for once, I refrained from blaming myself. And my day was less miserable than it could have been. Howard found a perfectly good solution and the work got done even without the missing sketch.

Paying attention today made me realize the quantities of miserable noise that want to take over my brain all the time. No wonder things have felt so hard for so long. Today was good, but I had to work at letting it be good. Hopefully as I clear away the back log of things, and as I practice, then having good days will come easier and easier.

Comments are open on the original post at onecobble.com.

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