While reading this I want you to cross your arms. Now look down at what arm is on top. Uncross and re-cross them, but make your other arm sit on top of your ‘preferred’ arm. It feels odd doesn’t it? Like learning to drive; or the first time you made an unfamiliar recipe that is now firmly part of your go-to repertoire; or that first month in a new role, you feel uncomfortable. The world seems to be careering on around you, everyone looks like they know what they’re doing, while you’re just sat there doing your best ‘rabbit in a headlight’ impression.
What if I told you, we are all muddling through as best we can? What if I told you that despite all appearances to the contrary, everyone’s lives are as chaotic, messy, convoluted and downright crazy as yours? I know you won’t believe me, but have a think about what your best friends and relatives are going through at the minute? How many people are you supporting as you text, chat and email your way through your week? Multiply that by everyone you see on the street, at work, on TV, that is a whole lot of life going on. Yes, life.
When I was a new mum, I’d spend a lot of time walking round and round our local shopping mall. Our son was born in the middle of winter; I could do loops of the mall without being buffeted by wind and rain, except on our way there and back again. Some days I knew I looked terrible, but I was still out the house with him. Some days I managed to brush my hair, put some make-up on and put an outfit on instead of jogging pants. There were lots of other new mums doing the same thing, we’d pass ourselves on the laps, with a knowing wink and a smile, we’d be able to see if there had been a rough night or not.
Dr Phil talks about forced life decisions that make you change the path that you were on. Like the death of a loved one, marriage failure and so on, the big things that knock you sideways. But every day we make millions of decisions and don’t really think about them. How we get to work, what to eat for lunch, when to make a cup of tea, we carry on blindly doing the same thing over and over. It’s what makes the weeks whizz past, you wake up on Monday morning, thinking ‘Heck!’ blink, and it’s Thursday.
Slow down a little.
I’m all for planning ahead, but that is to save you time, so that you can appreciate the things you want to in your life. When you automate your life, you do one of two things, you create routine which is both good and bad. Good in the sense because jobs get done, cleaning your teeth and showering are an example of this. However, it is also bad because instead of enjoying your shower, you are already thinking about what meetings are in your diary, what you want to get done during the day and before you know it you’ve turned the tap off and not even recognised you even were in the shower. I used to repack our nappy bag as soon as I got home, because I knew if I needed to get out the house with the wee man, I needed to get out the house there and then. I could grab it and go and be striding out clearing my head and any frustration within minutes. While I was out, I breathed deeply through my nose, loving the smell of the trees, looking at clouds scudding across the sky. Any new mum will tell you, when they get a chance to have a shower, they relish it. I’d have showers so long, the hot water would run out. But all the time I was in that little cubicle, I didn’t have anyone or anything pressing their needs onto me.
When you empty the dishwasher as soon as it’s finished, you free up your sink and bench from being cluttered by the next round of dirty dishes. When you run a load of washing as soon as you have a load to run, you avoid having a mountain of clothing to wade through over the weekend. When you wipe the bench down in your kitchen every night after doing the dishes, you’re not greeted by a stark reminder of all you didn’t do when you stagger into make a cup of tea in the morning.
It can take between 21 and 254 days to create a habit, depending on how difficult the habit is that your trying to make part of your routine, that is a long time in some instances. Until you become comfortable doing something without thinking about it, the chances are you may feel a bit odd. Like crossing your arms with the wrong arm on top, but the difference is, we can persevere, until it becomes normal. But try not to let the things you enjoy and want to do become so automatic you don’t notice them. When you’ve had a crappy day at work, sometimes doing the dishes or the ironing can be almost meditative, if you totally concentrate on what you’re doing.
Automate what you can, create the routines that support your life by allowing you to live the life you want. If you’re stuck about how best to do that, or what some help with wading through your clutter, give me a call.