It feels a little strange to write about this, because I’m hardly in a position to offer advice right now. Please think of this as something I’m sharing because it helped me sort the army of emotions advancing on my psyche. If you’re feeling equally defenseless in the face of something Big and Bad, or even if you’re just a little befuddled, I hope this will be useful.
When my best-laid plans for my family went awry, my impulse was to respond with a frenzy of planning, and list making, and goal setting.
Instead I napped and took too many baths. Sometimes I napped in the bathtub, which I recommend. Anyway, once I’d restocked enough energy to think about anything but impending doom, I thought now might be a reasonable time to reassess my priorities.
Fortunately, I came across a well-timed article by Martha Beck about using the emotions you’d like to experience to guide your goals (I think it’s the same one Lara mentioned in comments). You look at how you want to feel overall, and then choose activities that support those objectives. I thought it would be a smart organizing principle for deciding what to do next.
First, I needed to figure out how I wanted to feel besides “not like this.” So I did what the article suggested, and here’s how that process unfolded for me:
1. I made a list of all the things I’d like to feel that I’m not right now: content, rested, sane.
2. I decided the main thing I want is more peace, but that seemed too one dimensional, so I made a little outline of all the other emotions that define peace to me. Mine looked like this (forgive the inherent cheese, it’s the nature of the beast):
3. Next, for each emotion, I wrote down things that have evoked that feeling in the past. Holy hell, my friends. This was genuinely startling.
I realized how many things I genuinely love that I rarely do. For example, I thought about times I’d experienced joy, and I kept coming back to swimming. I particularly love swimming in natural bodies of water, and I almost never do it. This is ridiculous because we have a cabin a block from a river. Apparently I’ve been denying myself joy because it’s too much of a pain. Joy gets too much sand in the car.
I also realized how many mundane bits of happiness I needlessly deny myself. I used to love getting dressed in the morning, especially if I was feeling blue. Looking pulled together is like armor, it makes me feel so much more confident. Over the years, as my schedule has shifted to accommodate the people around me, I started to rush through grooming, to be stressed about how long it took. I stopped ironing, resisted the urge to change an outfit that wasn’t working. Getting ready in the morning became a chore, because I felt like everyone was waiting on me. Now when I feel time stress rising, I stop myself and think, “You enjoy this.” And I let my shoulders unhunch.
What’s Your Question?
The best thing about this process is that, for a while at least, it has given me a single question to ask myself about any decision in front of me. Will this make me feel more peaceful? If the answer is no, it’s off the list.
I need to make more time for water.
What’s the question you ask yourself before you make decisions? Or do you have another guiding principle for goal setting? I’m all ears.
Writing thank you notes to my teachers is one of the goals on my Mighty List, and I’m starting off with a doozy.
“I cannot stop talking about the things I saw on Oprah. As I will myself to shut up, I can hear my mouth charging ahead with enthralling anecdotes about the Olsen twins’ business philosophies (shut up!), extending your passion to the world (shut! up!), and S-shaped bowel movements (ohmydeargod, shut up!). It’s gotten so bad that I decided I had to stop mentioning Oprah’s name in conversation. So now I say, “I saw this thing on… TV about how your poop is supposed to be S-shaped?” And all the women around me nod knowingly.”
You’re nodding right now, aren’t you? Yeah. That’s why you’re on my team.
I signed a contract saying I wouldn’t blog about behind-the-scenes stuff, so I thought I’d tell you how much it meant to be at the Harpo Studios.
Meeting Oprah is on my Mighty List, so when I found out I’d get to see a show taping, it was an oddly emotional week. On the plane ride, I kept tearing up thinking of how much I’ve been influenced by the show, and then pretending to be asleep so the flight attendant wouldn’t see my eyes misting “Oh, no no! It’s nothing. I’m just thinking about… TV.”
I knew I wouldn’t get to meet Oprah this time around, but I figured it would be enough to sit in the audience and radiate gratitude. And you know what? It was.
The crew was taping three shows that day, and I’m sure Oprah was up at 4 a.m. to work out, do some reading, then hair and makeup, then tend to the tedium of world domination. Seeing her at work, I realized I never, ever want to be yet another thing on her to-do list. What I want is to bring her a glass of wine. Bryan used to work in politics, and he said he feels the same way about getting photos with presidents. You see how hard they’re working for the things you believe in, and you just want to do something to ease their lives, instead of inserting yourself in their paths.
Sitting in that studio, I realized that I don’t need to meet Oprah. What I need to do is thank her. So here it is, my very first thank you note to a teacher:
Your message shielded me through a difficult childhood, and your example shaped the woman I’ve become. Through the years, you have been my Mary Tyler Moore, my Maya Angelou, my Mrs. Duncan. I am profoundly grateful for everything you have done for me; for every one of us.
Because of you I have known better, I have done better, I have thrived.