Being Busy Is Not A Commodity!

Are you one of those folks who feels so busy all the time, yet can’t seem to get accomplished the things that you want to?  Well, join the club…and that club is big.  I have a handful of pointers here you may find helpful.  Full disclosure, I suck at this.  It’s an area I strive to be better at all the time.  I think it’s actually a chronic problem in America, so my guess is this blog may strike your interest.  You’ll only waste a few minutes of your time.
Being “Busy” is Not a Commodity!
I can’t take credit for this concept and would love to give credit to the person that I heard it from, but I don’t remember his name.  It was another therapist I met while working in Community Mental Health.  Here is what it means though.  A commodity is something that is a raw material that can be bought and sold.  Items you get at the grocery store would be considered food commodities.  “So why are you calling being “busy” a commodity Doc? It’s something we do, not something we buy or sell?”  Well my friends here is what has happened in our society.  Being “busy” has a new cultural value, sometimes positive and sometimes negative.  We talk about it like it is a thing we own, such as “You think you have a busy schedule?  I have more to do than time to do it in?”  Then we start talking to each other like we have more or less of it, like it’s a competition.  For instance, “I have three kids.  Busy is just a way of life.  The more kids and the more activities the more busyness we have.”
Remember how I have talked about words being powerful, well this is a prime example of how the way we talk about things shapes how we think about them. Stop it. Being “busy” is not a thing we have (or want to have).  It is not something we should compete with one another about having more or less of. Busyness is really a reflection of where we are putting our priorities, which leads me to the next tip.
Get Back on Track with What Your Priorities are.
So, what are your priorities?  If you are like a basic American, you may think that it looks like this:
My family
I would strongly encourage you to take a good look at this and think about it for a while.  Be more curious about how these priorities got to be in the order they are in.  Be a Colombo in your own life (and for those of you too young to know who that is…look it up, there are great clips online).  He was the master at staying curious and asking questions about things in a way that you could finally get to the kernel of truth underneath the surface.  So, for example, when I think my life is getting out of whack like this, I start asking myself things like:
Me the therapist: “So Natalie why is work first right now?”
Me the workaholic: “Well, it’s because I want to be the best provider for my family.”
Me the therapist: “So what you are telling me is that you value your family more than work, and are using work as one way to do right by them”
Me the workaholic: “Ok.  I see what you’re saying.  So maybe my priorities are more like: 1) Family/Loved ones, 2) Work, and 3) Me”
Me the therapist: “Alright.  Help me understand why family and loved ones are so important.”
Me the workaholic: “Well I am responsible for them and need to be sure I am doing everything I can for them.”
Me the therapist: “I see.  So, you really value making sure you’re at your best so you can best be able to help those you love and feel responsibility for.”
Me as a workaholic: “Huh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I guess that is true.”
Me the therapist: “So if I am hearing you correctly what you are really saying is you put yourself first in order to be the best you can for your family and one of the ways you are doing that is by providing for your family?  Am I hearing that right?”
Me the “former” workaholic: “I kind of lost sight of that order.  I guess I better think about how to pull that back in line again.”
So, after you’re finished scoffing at the fact that I talk to myself, think about how I did this.  It’s pretty easy.  It’s just exploring with curiosity (and not self-judgment) how things got out of order for myself.  I encourage you to try this and see if part of feeling “busy” all the time is you are putting the wrong things first, second, and third, which means you aren’t getting to the things that are really important to you.
Take an Audit of Your Time
I can’t take credit for this one either.  I recently was reminded of it by my pastor.  He was helping some of the leadership in our church think about where we are putting the bulk of our time.  A great way to start this is to get data.  If you’re an analytical person this will seem like a great idea.  If you are more of a person that goes by the “feel” of things, this will seem like a form of torture.  Do it anyway.  Just log each hour of the waking day for a week and count up your sleep time too. What you will be left with is a good snapshot of the discretionary time you have, and I am warning you, it isn’t as much as you think.  Another point my pastor was making when he mentioned taking an audit of your time, is that the average American consumes about 50 hours of media for pleasure on average.  “What the what?!?!?” How is it humanly possible to have this time?  I’ll give you a hint, you are robbing from somewhere else.  Could be less sleep you are getting, no time with your spouse, no fun time with your kids just discipline and necessary caretaking, etc.  So, try taking this audit.  Remember, there are only 168 hours in a week.  If you are sleeping your 8 hours a day, that leaves 112.  If you are working a 40 hour a week job, that leaves 72 hours (3 days of time).  If you are an average American consuming 50 hours of media outside of this time that is ONLY 22 hours left (less than one full day’s time).  So, what are you doing with that 22 hours?  And are you being too hard on yourself for not getting to 60 hours’ worth of things in this 22 hours.  Remember, I didn’t even count in travel time to/from work, daily/weekly household tasks, daily grooming, etc.  I told you it wasn’t a lot of time.  Give yourself a break and go back to #2 and realign yourself with what is really important to you in life. 
Take Care of You!  Schedule it in to Your EVERY DAY!  I Mean It!
All joking aside, self-care is pivotal to all this working.  You may not arrive at the same values I did in the example in #2, but I want you to really think about better prioritizing yourself.  You are a finite resource, just like your measly 22 hours of discretionary time each week (approximately).  If you are not taking care of this resource it gets depleted.  If it gets depleted there is less of it to use.  Math is not my best subject, but even I know if you are only subtracting eventually you go bust.  So, remember to put into yourself.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but I would encourage at least 30 minutes of your day dedicated to doing something that just lifts your soul.  Now this might be media related, like watching your favorite Netflix show, yet I’d encourage you to think outside the box on this one.  Get creative.  Sometimes its 15 extra minutes to take a bath instead of a shower in the morning, or 10 extra minutes to smell the hair of your little one after they have finished their bath as you read them a book before bed, or a phone call to your bestie to laugh your behind off at the latest antics your everyday life brings you.  Whatever it is…do as Nike has trained us to…Just Do It.
Last, but never least…
You’ve now done a great job of taking assessment of what your priorities are and where your time is going.  You’ve started to change your language about being “busy” and shift your mindset to how to best use your precious time.  You are remembering to honor that your biggest resource can be your biggest vulnerability if you are not attending to it, and you are taking time each day to lift yourself back up and replenish this finite resource.  Now that you’ve got all this going for you, re-arrange your time.  It’s that simple...”Uh Doc. I’m sorry but nothing about this is simple.” Ok, I agree. You have to be intentional on this, but new habits can form in about three weeks.  Take that discretionary time and rearrange it to better fit getting your needs met in the order you value having them met.  Sure, that means some sacrificing, yet it is well worth it.  When we are working in alignment with what our purpose and values are in life, we feel better about our time.  “Busy” becomes just another four-letter word.


There's More To Life Than Not Sucking...

What child while dreaming of what they want to be when they grow up says, “I can’t wait until I grow up and don’t suck!”?  Answer, NO ONE…EVER!!!  Our dreams as young ones usually involve being superheroes, royalty, and occasionally even something more down to earth, like a firefighter, doctor, or police officer.  Then we get a little older and we realize that some of the fantastical dreams may be out of our reach (it was a sad day for me when I realized that animals would only talk to Dr. Doolittle and my zoologist dream may not come true after all), yet we still keep dreaming.  I wanted to be a medical doctor. Then I met Chemistry and thought…what about a psychologist, I’ve been listening to my friends and family for years, so how hard can that be.  

In all seriousness, though, when I work with folks in therapy the thing that speaks the loudest to me is whether they are still dreaming...still hopeful that there is something out there for them in life. When this goes, it is usually because helplessness and hopelessness have crept in.  Sure, sometimes we call it being adult, pragmatic or realistic, yet in reality losing sight of our dreams or feeling that dreams cannot be attained is truly crippling. If I ask a client, what kinds of things do you look forward to or where do you see yourself headed, and I get a response like, “I don’t know Doc.  I’m not really sure what my goals are.”  This is when I know that there is work to be done.  Because really, no one looks forward to just not sucking.  We may want to have relief from our pain, a reprieve from low self-esteem, or an ability to think more positively, but these are not the goals.  These are byproducts.  Good byproducts, but not the star we wish to reach for. And certainly, not what we thought we were going to be when we grew up…someone that doesn’t suck.

“So Doc, what next? I’ve come into your office looking to make this depression go away or to learn how to make my anxiety less of a burden in my life.  How do I accomplish this if I am not focused on fixing it…on not sucking?”

Well my friend, the short answer to that is, find your way back to your hopes and dreams.  Find your way back to aligning with what you want in life.  Dream. And don’t just dream…DREAM BIG!!!  Why? Because feeling better comes when we have a focus to feel better about.  Feeling better hardly ever comes when our focus is just to feel less bad then we do at present.  

“Ok Doc.  So how do I dream again, when there is rent to be paid, food to put on the table, work (that I don’t even like) to be done?  I love your optimism that it is as easy as dreaming again, but my life just isn’t that easy.”

I hear you.  And you’re right, life isn’t that easy.  My push back to you, is that neither are dreams.  Neither are goals that are worth sacrificing for.  Neither is failing on your way to meet those dreams and goals, only to have to get back up and keep at it.  None of that is easy.  The silver lining is, when we work hard and meet a goal, we feel good and it’s because we worked so hard for it and know that it is a true accomplishment.  If we feel good, chances are we are sucking less.  So, my challenge to you, my friends, is to stop looking to suck less and start remembering what you wanted to be when you grew up. Or start thinking BIG about what new and exciting thing you want to accomplish (even if you have no reasonable clue where to begin). Because dreams are not built to be easy and we are not well-oiled machines.  If this was the case, anyone could accomplish the dreams we have. No! Dreams are meant to push us beyond ourselves and will help us to be people well beyond someone that just doesn’t suck.

It’s like the old saying goes, “Shoot for the stars and you may just reach the moon.”  

Natalie M. Marr, Psy.D., LP



Five Secrets to Making Your New Year's Resolution Stick

Happy 2018!!  And with the New Year, comes New Year’s resolutions.  Right?  How many of these have worked out for you across the years.  It’s tough to do, right?  After a while we can even start to feel ineffective at making things work.  Well, I’d like to get you off to a good start with these 5 secrets to making your New Year’s resolutions stick.

1. Tie your resolution to your own values!

What do you mean doc?  What I mean by this is make sure that whatever resolutions you have chosen are tied to things that you truly value, not what others value for you or that society tells you that should value.  Case in point.  The #1 resolution almost every year…lose weight.  It’s a decent goal and can be attainable.  However, it is also a goal that is laden with cultural values of needing to be be thin to be attractive, healthy, etc.  If this is your goal, ask yourself why you want to make this your resolution.  Is it because you value yourself over other things in your life and need to put yourself first this year?  Or is it because you want to fit into those jeans gathering dust on the top shelf in your closet?  If it’s the later, my guess is this resolution is rooted in a cultural value and not one of your own. Now, that is not to say that you may not value what the culture does, but beware.  As the comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”  If all you are trying to accomplish is to meet the status quo, it may be an empty value.  If on the other hand, you love your family and friends dearly and want to live to be 102, then getting healthy may mean you get thin.  In that example, the value the goal is tied to is spending time with family and friends (not being thin because American culture tells you that’s valuable).

So how do I know what my values are doc? Wow…that’s a biggie.  Sometimes our values are things taught to us in our families of origin, communities, cultures, and faith communities (just to name a few).  Ultimately though, they are things that we continue to value ourselves.  I don’t think all of us still ascribe to all the things we were taught as kids. So here is a quick test.  What are the things that get you charged up the most (positively or negatively)?  What are the kinds of things that you would “go to bat” for?  Maybe it’s that competitive nature of yours.  Or maybe it’s that you are always willing to take on more to help others. Now, once you figure out what things get your charged up, ask yourself, why is that?  What need of my own is that serving?  For example, with those of us that are competitive is it because being the best is our value? Or, is it that being the best was a value of our family of origin that we would like to move away from? For those of us who are always willing to help someone else, is it because we find value in service? Or, is it because we don’t know how to say no and displease others?  This line of questioning can help you get to the bottom of what your values are.  Once you’ve got these, be sure that they tie back to your resolutions.   You are bound to be more successful if your goals have meaning for you, rather than your goals being meaningful to others.

2. Make your goals measurable.

This one seems very simple, yet it is very important and often forgotten in my experience.  Here is what I mean.  To go with our earlier example of losing weight, if your goal is just that…to lose weight…won’t you attain it after you have lost 1 pound?  While 1 pound of weight loss would actually meet the criteria of losing weight, I am guessing it would be far from what you want to really accomplish.  So, for this step, all that is needed is a little more specificity.  You could phrase it more like this, “I’ll know I have met my goal of losing weight when I ______.”  In that blank, could be any kind of measure.  It may be a set weight limit, a set size you want to fit into (like those dusty jeans you have on the shelf), or it can some way that the weight loss makes you feel (e.g. have more energy, sleep through the night, etc.).

3. Set your goals in small attainable increments.

So, this one goes hand in hand with the step above.  It seems pretty intuitive, yet I am never surprised when I hear folks struggling with this one.  Let’s face it.  We want accolades.  We like praise.  We strive to accomplish things and are disappointed if we miss the mark.  But what if our mark is way too high. For example, in our example weight loss goal, if we want to accomplish losing 25 pounds in the first month, we will likely be killing ourselves for a slim chance of attaining the goal.  Plus, I am guessing if we want to go that fast with this goal, we probably are off in step one (tying our goals to our values) as well.  We will be much more successful and much more engaged if what we are working towards is in stepwise attainable increments, possibly with rewards at each step.  We love positive reinforcement.  So, if the goal is to lose 25 pounds, we could reward ourselves for each 5-pound milestone.  Like a new workout outfit or a new cooking utensil that will help us in our continued goal of a 25 pound weight loss.  We do better with ongoing encouragement, than we do with a long term goal with little to no reward on the way to the goal.

4. A “Not” goal is NOT a goal!

This is an absolute No! No! in my book.  Alright doc.  So, what is a Not goal?   Here are some examples of “Not” goals.

            I will not eat sugar anymore.

            I will not cheat with snacks between meals.

            If I am tired and don’t want to exercise, I will not give into my laziness.

Goals are not things we are NOT doing, they are things we ARE doing.  When you are setting your goals in small attainable increments, make sure you don’t fall into the “Not” goal mistake.

5. And last but certainly not least, don’t forget to FAIL.

Yes, you heard me right.  Don’t forget to fail.  Failure is a hardwired step in the brain’s learning process.  It’s how we know where the boundaries are to what we are learning and how we solidify the steps that we must recall.  When young kids learn to talk, one of the most common (and possibly cutest) error they make is to add “ed” to all past tense verbs.  For example, instead of saying “Mom, look how I ran” a toddler might say “Mom, look how I runned”.  In a literal sense, this is a grammar failure, but in a global sense this is a necessary part of the language learning process.

So, don’t forget to fail.  Or maybe I should say, don’t forget to get back up and keep going, learning from your necessary failure.  Don’t be scared to make changes to your goals either.  You may find that the measurable goals, in attainable small increments, are inching you away from your ultimate goal.  In those cases, readjust.

I will leave you with a quote that I think best summarizes this last step.  I wish you all well in this New Year.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

The Man in the Arena, by Theodore Roosevelt, an excerpt from the speech “Citizen in a Republic”