My fitness tracker is messing with me. Remember when I told you I exceed the steps goal each day? Yeah, well, it turns out, whenever I exceed the steps goal, the tracker automatically raises the goal the following day. That’s good, right? If we want to grow and improve in anything, we should raise the goal from time to time, correct?
But that means that the daily steps I walked 2 weeks ago (that exceeded the goal)—the exact same number of steps—is now falling short of the goal. Two weeks ago, I walked 8,000 steps and my wrist was all, “GOAL!!!!” But this week, I walk 8,000 steps and it’s all, “FAIL.”
It doesn’t literally say “FAIL.” But that’s how I read it. That’s what my brain does with this information.
Last weekend, my oldest daughter bought her first car—well, she bought half a car. We bought the other half. This means she is now able to drive herself and my other two kids to school, and she also can drive herself to all of her activities. For the first time in 13 years, I am not driving through carpool twice a day. This frees up a minimum of 2 hours in my schedule every day. Driving to all of her activities has freed up exactly 23 hours a day. I kid, I kid. But it’s a lot of hours. “Time is money” has never rung truer in my whole life.
This is good, right? All that extra time? Yes, it is good. But here’s what my mind tells me:
“Now that you have 2 extra hours (minimum) every day, you should FINALLY be able to accomplish all the things. Like, every single thing. You already do not work outside the home (lazy), as if you had any excuses before. But now? You REALLY have no excuses. You should be able to write AND clean AND cook AND launder AND exercise AND socialize AND volunteer AND keep the household and all it’s inhabitants humming beautifully. You should be able to do this every single day because you have ALL THIS EXTRA TIME.”
(If you do not struggle with perfectionism, you will not understand this voice. It’s where the perfectionist mind naturally goes when it’s not fully submitted to Jesus. We are so hard on ourselves. We perfectionists need Jesus so very much…)
So, my kids head down the driveway in the new car, and after I cry a little (because yesterday it was bikes!) I find myself going back inside and setting timers and running (literally, running) through my house to accomplish everything and to not waste a single minute. By the time my kids get home from school, what should be a refreshed, accomplished human, ready to interact with her people, is instead a fragile shell of a mom, already exhausted…dreaming about bedtime.
The other morning, my husband made the mistake of being in the laundry room while I was working through all of this in my mind. It came out of my mouth, and all over him. (Sorry, honey….that’s what you get for sleeping in.) Anyway, after me spilling this all over him, he looked at me and said, “Why don’t you just do the same amount of things you did before, but with less stress?”
Because someone just raised the goal, that’s why!!!! I don’t know who this “someone” is, because, last time I checked, no one was sitting in my bed at the end of the day asking me to list everything I accomplished.
Oh, wait…it’s me. I raised the goal. I am the evil activity tracker who knows that I’m sometimes capable of exceeding my goals, so, I set the goals higher and higher. “Oh, I can do all these things in 7 hours…just think of everything I can do with 9 hours!” I’m the one who sits in my bed and demands a list of accomplishments.
There’s a mental component to balance.
A big, giant mental component. It matters very much what we set out to do. But it also matters very much what we believe we can do and should do. It is about time-management, too, sort of. But it’s obviously not only about time-management. Because, if I manage my time really well, if I schedule myself down to the minute, if I stay off social media, and set timers, and batch produce, and keep updated lists…but I believe I should be doing more/better/faster? Then it won’t matter how much I accomplished. I will look at everything I didn’t do and read “FAIL.”
Case in point: The very day I spilled this on my husband, I accomplished a lot. I worked on lessons for my Bible study, I scrubbed the master bath from top to bottom (ugh…so dirty), I vacuumed and mopped the floors, I completed 3 full loads of laundry. I returned emails and phone calls. I sat in on a one-hour conference call with my siblings and hospice regarding my dad. I attended Parent Night at Elliana’s school. I made breakfast, lunch, and dinner (ok, dinner was frozen pizza, but I also made a salad with homemade vinaigrette to go with it, so I’m giving myself that one.) I quizzed Elliana on spelling words and played baby dolls with her. I prayed, read my Bible, and wrote in my journal. I read a chapter in a book, I talked to a friend, and comforted my daughter’s friend while she cried in my arms over a break up.
I did all those things. And yet, at the end of the day, sitting in my bed, my mind told me I FAILED because I did not also exercise. I planned on it—It was upper body day!—right up until my kids walked in the door after school, but I ran out of time. Oh, also, my activity tracker told me I did not meet my steps goal. I did not exercise and I did not reach my steps goal on the same day = DOUBLE FAIL.
“If I could go back, I wouldn’t spend so much time worrying about the messes and the obsessive-compulsiveness needing to be so in control. I would spend more time nibbling little feet and cuddling up. I worried about so many things I just didn’t need to be worrying about when they were still so young, and I came on way too strong. I should have just rolled around on the floor some. I wouldn’t have melted down so much.” ~Kate Gosselin, from Jon & Kate Plus 8 and Kate Plus 8, to People Magazine~
I know I am not alone. I know there are moms all over the world right now, sending kids off to school, packing lunches, attending Parent Nights, checking back packs, quizzing spelling words, signing reading logs and agendas, fixing multiple meals a day, washing every dirty thing, while also giving hugs and kisses and pep talks and prayers—on the verge of a meltdown because a voice inside says, “Sorry—that wasn’t good enough. We raised the bar. Try harder tomorrow.”
Silencing the internal voice is a key component to balance.
If you were sitting on my front porch with me right now, crying into your coffee because you keep raising your own bar and you are about to lose it, this is what I’d tell you. (In no particular order. Because if you were here, I would not go back and re-read this and edit it into a logical order. I would just talk):
1. Stop. Take a deep breath. Literally. Just stop a minute and breathe. It is not your job to hold it all together. It is not your job to hold YOU together. This is God’s job, and He is really good at it. He actually does His best work in those of us who hold our frail, fragile, shell-like hearts to Him and say, “Help me, please. I can’t do it.” Yes, be a grown-up and be a good steward of the gifts God has given you. This is not a license to leave your house a wreck and watch Real Housewives all day. But the world will not crumble if you dial back a bit. (More on dialing back in a minute.)
2. It is so good to model balance to your family. It is okay to think, “Well, look at that—an extra 2 hours. Perhaps I could nap or sit on the porch with tea or read a book! Maybe I could make some coffee plans! Or bake something! Or maybe I could do everything I did last week, but just a little less frantically.” (A handsome, wise man suggested this to me once.) This way, when the kids get home from school today, instead of being completely exhausted from not wasting a single minute of this newly granted 2 hours, I could be rested and full and refreshed and ready to be present with those kids.”
Just because your “fitness tracker” (or brain) raises your goal, it does not mean you have to meet that new goal. Goals can be adjusted up or down. Adjusting down is not a sign of failure! Sometimes it just makes good sense! Just because you have 2+ extra hours most days, does not mean you need to immediately fill it up with productivity. Sometimes that means you can slow down and enjoy the margin.
3. If you normally give 100% to everything, I promise, you can drop back to 80% or even 50% on some things and no one would even notice, except you.* If you are used to doing things all the way or not at all (wave to me, fellow Perfectionists!), try doing things almost all the way, and then let it go.
For example: I know for a fact that every one of us can dial back on phone/social media time. None of us had any spare time 10 years ago, yet, miraculously, we all found an extra 3 hours a day to be on our phones.
If you normally pack lunches every day, go ahead and let the kids buy at school (I know…school lunches can be gross…but they could be a gross blessing) Or, here’s a novel idea→ Let the kids pack their own lunches!
If you cook every night and that’s important to you, try making double meals and serving leftovers every other night. Or declare one night “cereal night” or “smoothie night” or “turkey sandwich night.” Spaghetti, jar sauce, and boxed salad takes 8 minutes. You can do this! And, don’t forget meal planning. I know I talk about meal planning a lot, that’s because a) it helps me so very much, and 2) I sometimes fail to do it (last week), and I always, always, always regret it.
If you go through everyone’s agenda each night and check homework and check back packs, and assist in school projects, maybe it’s time to call a family meeting and tell everyone you aren’t doing that any more. Let the teachers know, too. Teachers want to see the child’s work anyway. They already know the 40-year-old parents can totally rock out math and art and science and reading—perhaps they’d like to see what your 4th grader can do. They will probably be THRILLED that you are no longer hovering.
(I know my fellow recovering perfectionists are mentally clicking through each item on their list thinking, “I can’t dial back on that. Or that. Or that. Or even that…THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DIAL BACK ON.” Okay, I hear you. Even as I write, I feel elevated heart rate myself. How about this: Choose 3 things you will not/cannot dial back on—3 things that you want to do 100% of the way—and then dial back on everything else.)
4. Declare a Sabbath. You may need to drop everything immediately. But if you can’t do that, schedule it for the next possible day. Saturday? Sunday? Tuesday? Sabbath rest is God-ordained. The world won’t fall apart if you rest one day a week.
5. Take a walk outside. Put on your favorite music or podcast, or listen to nature, and walk for an hour. I always feel so much better after I’ve walked outside and breathed actual air. Nature and all it’s sounds and smells and sights have such a centering effect. The day after this mental breakdown I was having in my laundry room, I did just this. I picked up my phone and turned on a podcast, and headed out the door, leaving everything undone for an hour. It was glorious. And no one even noticed.
Silence that mean voice that tells you what you are doing is not enough.
You’ve got this.
*In an effort to “dial back” on my blog post writing, I spent about 50% of the normal amount of time writing this, and 0% time editing it. This is why this post resembles more of a ramble than a well-constructed essay. So, if you see a typo, you can email me. Or not. #balance