Raising three kids I get how easily one can fall into a couple of predictable traps:
Rewarding good behavior with sweets.
Rewarding good behavior with purchase.
Depriving ourselves of time or forgiveness.
When the girls perform well on an assignment at school, it comes home with a pack of Smarties taped to it. When they finish their reading assignments they get a coupon for Pizza Hut. Finley says, “If I’m good can I get a…”
I get so frustrated, but do I do the same thing? Do we go out to dinner to break from routine? Pick up a little this or that at the check out?
I began to wonder, do I do this with myself? Can I curb the behavior and still feel rewarded? When I am feeling out of sorts can I get by without decadent splurges? Can I believe that my day can be fun or happier without treats?
Here I am last week in NYC doubting Spiderman’s claims that I should let him pick me up.
I think the trick for me is figuring out things that feel good and remembering them for something that can be enjoyed as a reward or, maybe even more importantly, things that can be peppered through a day or week to keep me feeling upbeat.
1. Take the time— I don’t have to make the time, I already have it. I just need to rearrange the things I do or how long I take to do them in order to have time. A trip to the gym, maybe it isn’t 90 minutes, but 35 minutes can make a huge difference about how I feel. Instead of puttering from 6-6:45 while the girls play, Sean can be at home spending time with them. It’s time that he doesn’t normally get, and I can be at the gym.
2. Make a line—Drawing a single line of liquid black eyeliner across each eyelid makes me feel more confident. I don’t want to get into a scuffle over whether or not make up should be a good thing. I’m talking about how I feel when I wash my hands in the bathroom before a meeting and give myself a once over. It isn’t about how I look, it’s the confirmation that there was time in the morning that I took for me. I was worth a few minutes. The same goes for lining up the shoes at home. Whether I ask the girls to tidy things up or I do it myself, when something in the house shifts from a should-do to a that’s-done, it feels really good.
3. Say it—I don’t want to read The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t get the kale thing. I enjoy biting my cuticles. Whatever the thing is that I stay quiet about because it seems to go against popular opinion, when I let it out and just own who I am and what makes me tick, I feel relief.
4. Smile—I know, I know. Fake, false, not feeling it, but the thing is that whole fake it ’til you make it thing has something going for it. When I was a kid my imaginative play always involved an accent. I’d pretend to be Russian or from the South, I would speak a made-up French dialect, with different sounds rolling off my tongue. Even after I’d move onto another activity, my speech would lilt toward the sounds I’d been making. Smiles are the same way, whether I put one on in a meeting or override the awkwardness on the street and make eye contact with a stranger so that I can smile or say “Hello,” in the wake of that smile I can always feel the embers of genuine contentment.
5. Let It Go—Sorry, had to. A quick search on Pinterest will illustrate all the reasons I should let it go—the troubles are too heavy to keep carrying and the person doesn’t deserve to have a free ticket to travel with me the rest of my life. Careful though, Pinterest will also imply an inadequacy in centerpiece making and suggest that none of us are working our glutes to their fullest potential. Staying away from Pinterest and loosening the grip on anger is a boost, it isn’t condoning or accepting; it’s just opening up more space/strength to create new joy.
It’s funny how some distance, can make everything seem small.
6. Pet/Scratch/Hug—The cat, the dog, a stuffed animal, your spouse, your kid, yourself. It works like science.
7. Scrub—Your face, the crisper drawers of the fridge, the bathtub. Call it getting out a bit of aggression by focusing on a simple, yet high yield project. When it’s done something is cleaner and under control.
8. Make Good—Maybe you don’t have this one, if so, good for you. I have several things that I have said, “I’ll do that one day,” or “I ought to…” that I haven’t yet done. Returning a borrowed item, sending a hand-written card, visiting a friend, they’re all things I have in some way committed to and unwittingly judge myself for not doing, if only sporadically. Following through can quiet the internal voice of failure.
9. Try it—Don’t make the bed, make the bed. Turn something that you do every day on its ear. Part your hair on the other side, use half and half instead of nonfat milk in your coffee. Ride on a scooter with your non-dominant foot forward or wear the way-too-trendy scarf you got as a gift. You can always switch back, but at least you’ll be reminded that there are options in life.
10. Say yes—Because even if you’re nervous and think it could never work, every once in a while you realize that you were wrong.
This list is small and I go back and forth from talking about myself to talking about the reader. A while back someone attacked me for saying “you” and not “I” or “me.” She said it was arrogant of writers to assume that they speak for everyone. It’s not that, I write for me and always hope that in some way my words might strike a chord with someone else, if they don’t, that’s ok.
I still hope that you find a list or a path, or some special thing that works for you, because we all deserve that.