Five Lessons Nature Teaches Us
Have you ever noticed that we human beings seem to spend a significant portion of our lives dealing with stress, anxiety and pressure? I don’t get the sense that the rest of nature experiences that. Sure, I guess if you’re a gazelle being chased by a lion, you’re gonna feel a bit anxious, but I somehow doubt that gazelles spend the same percentage of their time under such constant duress that we humans do. Perhaps nature can teach us a few things.
Ever since last week’s walk around the neighborhood without music, I’ve been taking lots of musicless walks. In fact, I’ve been taking only musicless walks, which has allowed me to notice a number of patterns about the natural world that I've never really focused on before because I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts all the time...truths that, if we just accepted and adopted them in our own lives, would help us lead a calmer, less stressful existence.
I think the old saying that you should “take time to stop and smell the roses” is about much more than just appreciating their beautiful scent. It’s about leaning in close enough to hear all that the roses are telling you.
The In-Between Spaces
If you follow me on Facebook you’re probably aware that our theme for April is Earth Month. My original plan was to offer some gardening-related tips and advice in today’s blog post, but to anyone who knows me well, that notion is spit-out-your-coffee laughable. To say that I do not have a green thumb is the understatement of the year. My best gardening advice is to never trust me with your plants.
Having said that, just because I seem incapable of growing things myself doesn’t mean I don’t have a deep appreciation for the things other people grow. In fact, I probably appreciate them even more because of my gardening “disability”. I enjoy having fresh cut flowers in my home while they last and like to admire other people’s gardens. Anyone who finds themselves with an over-abundance of fresh herbs or vegetables to share from their garden will find a grateful and enthusiastic taker here. I do have some azalea bushes and a rhododendron in my front yard and hydrangeas in my backyard that make me smile, partly because they remind me of my mother and partly because they seem to find a way to bloom beautifully year after year despite the fact that they live in my yard.
In any case, faced with a dearth of ideas on what to write about in this week’s blog on the topic of gardening and having some unexpected space in my daily routine yesterday, I decided to take a walk in the hopes that some sort of inspiration would jump into my path while I was admiring the fruits of other people’s labors in my neighborhood. And I did something I almost never do when going out for a walk on my own: I left my music at home and allowed the sounds around me to accompany my walk instead. It was an eye- (and ear-) opening experience.
I never realized before how much listening to music on my walks distracted me from connecting with the world around me. It sounds silly, now that I think of it, that I never noticed until now how much my music drowned out my environment and forced my focus inward. In fact, the purpose of my walks in the past has typically been more about de-stressing and processing what’s in my head and heart, whereas yesterday’s intention was to connect with my surroundings and let them lead my thoughts. It was pretty powerful.
I frankly expected this walk to be a little bit boring with all that open space in my mind, but I soon discovered how wrong I was. As I walked along the sidewalk leading up to my kids’ elementary school, I was greeted with a flood of memories...reminders of the many times I had walked my two now-teens to school as young children, of the conversations we’d had, of their joyfulness at meeting some of their friends along the way, of the worries I had often mulled over on my way home after dropping them off. Then I was drawn further back to my own childhood memories of climbing the small overgrown hill across from our bus stop to taste the honeysuckle before racing back down to the corner when the designated lookout shouted “BUS!” As I passed neighbors dutifully pruning and watering their carefully-tended gardens, I recalled my mother weeding the three round flower beds in our backyard and how my sisters and I still chuckle about the time we spotted our next door neighbor tending her garden in a white dress and high heels on her way in from church, such was her commitment to it.
As I turned the corner, I noticed the dandelions that had already turned white and remembered how we’d blow on them as kids, even though our parents told us not to...something kids still do today, and just as they no-doubt have done for centuries. There’s a comfort in knowing that we are connected down through the ages by a shared fascination with creation. When I was young, my father would take us backpacking. We’d go days at a time without seeing another living soul. I didn’t like that feeling of isolation, of separateness, of space between us and the rest of the world. But then I would imagine that we were treading upon the same land, surrounded by the same woods that native peoples and pioneers had trod upon two hundred years before us, and it reminded me that we were part of something eternal, something difficult to explain yet comforting that filled the gap between me and the rest of humanity in those lonely moments/
I took some time to appreciate the textures of the trees, which brought a smile to my lips. My father was also an avid amateur photographer when I was growing up and there were (and I assume still are) lots and lots (and lots) of photos of tree bark taken using a variety of shutter speeds and apertures among his vast slide collection. Remembering how I once stood for what seemed like hours in the snow, holding an umbrella over him and his camera equipment so that he could capture the May snow atop the fully blooming forsythia hedge in our backyard brought back warm thoughts as I continued on my breezy walk yesterday.
All these memories carried with them a tidal wave of mixed emotions that quickly filled every space within my brain. I felt love for my family and joy at recalling scenes from both childhood and young motherhood; regret over having missed out on potentially thousands of similar walks I didn’t take over the years because I was too busy, too lazy or too wrapped up in my own thoughts to pay attention; agonizing grief over the loss of loved ones now gone, opportunities missed with my children, time wasted worrying about trivial things; gratitude at the gift of this beautiful creation through which we are all connected; humility at realizing that I am but a tiny speck in this grand, great universe, yet awe that I was created with the same loving attention to detail as the itty bitty budding pinecones I had just inspected.
As I sat down to process all of these feelings, I noticed a hawk gliding through the air above the trees that circled the chain link fence surrounding a tennis court. The lack of music on this walk made space for me to discern the dichotomy of sounds I was hearing...birds chirping in the trees as well as a distant lawn mower. I turned over in my head these examples of nature contrasted with the signs of modern development and technology, coexisting in the beautiful setting of our neighborhood park. I stood up and continued down the paved path that led through the woods. The asphalt made this shortcut through a lovely secluded spot more navigable for walkers and bike-riders alike, yet there was little traffic. Again, man-made convenience and natural beauty occupying the same space. I was struck by how all these contrasting elements made my walk feel richer and more interesting somehow.
I don’t know if it’s just the organizer in me, or if it’s simply part of human nature to want to label everything we experience and put it neatly into its designated spot, leaving no spaces empty lest something uncategorized creep in there. I thought about where I’d file this walk. Does it fit most neatly under love, joy, regret, sorrow, guilt, gratitude, or humility? The answer is it was all of the above. It certainly wasn't what I expected it to be. It simultaneously made me both happy and sad. I mostly loved it but also didn't. Perhaps I can just let it be something undefinable, I thought. Why does everything have to be simplified and labeled? After all, life is complex...we are complex. Sometimes complexity is messy, but therein lies its beauty. How often do we lose out to our need to neaten it up? We ignore one thought, idea or emotion in favor of another because we feel like we can’t process both, instead of just living in that uncomfortable-yet-fascinating space in-between them? We label people, institutions, ideas and experiences as friend or foe, ally or adversary, acceptable or unacceptable, positive or negative, when the reality is that most of what we encounter in life is a mixture of both and of everything in-between.
My simple nature walk reminded me that just as the beauty of the rainbow lies in the wide range of its colors, the beauty of life is experienced through our ability to detect and savor all the subtle nuances contained within our relationships, emotions and experiences and to value each and every varying shade. I can love someone who has made me angry, be disappointed at the choices my children make and still be proud of who they are, disagree profoundly with my friend and still grow from all she continues to teach me, or recognize some positive quality in a person I find generally loathesome. I can wish for time alone yet be comforted by those constantly surrounding me. I can feel gratitude for all my blessings while working to bring about change, just as I can desire challenge while craving rest. Life is most fully lived and meaningful when we allow ourselves to exist in and experience those spaces in-between our labels.
When I was a child, I didn’t get why grownups wouldn’t want dandelions growing in their lawns:
“Because they’re weeds”, was the answer I was given.
“So?” I’d say, “They make the yard look pretty.”
“But they’re weeds,” my parents insisted.
Now I understand. We were both right. Even weeds can be pretty and even pretty things can be unwanted. Dandelions grow in the in-between spaces.
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Everybody Ante Up!
Texans are suffering. People with Covid are suffering. Kids are suffering. First responders, healthcare workers, single parents, and minorities are all suffering. With so much suffering happening all around us, it’s easy to feel despondent, demoralized, depressed and anxious. There’s nothing easy peasy about this game called life. The only way to win is to ante up and play the hand you are dealt carefully. The only way to lose is to view the other players as opponents instead of as members of the same team. Our common opponent is suffering, not each other. You win this game by helping others win. So how do we do that when we have a less-than-stellar hand to play?
Let’s begin by dispelling a few myths:
You DON’T have to spend money to help others.
You DON’T have to spend a lot of time to help others.
You DON’T have to risk your health to help others.
You DO get more than you give by helping others.
To quote Ronald Reagan, “We can’t help everybody, but everybody can help somebody.” And I would assert that if everybody did help somebody then, collectively, yes we could help everybody.
Our theme for this month is unity. Whether you like it or not, we’re all in this game together. But there’s good news in that statement, because being in it together is precisely how we win. Every single one of us needs something we don’t have, and every single one of us has something we don’t need. Only by coming together do we make a winning team.
Helping someone else, even when--no, especially when--you feel you have nothing to give, is empowering. You become part of the collective. You get to participate, not just as a receiver, but as a giver. You get to contribute your unique talents toward making the world a better place for at least one other person. What better use is there for them than that? And when you experience the power of neighbor helping neighbor firsthand, you become less anxious and more confident that your community will also be there for you if and when you need it. Pay into the pot as much as you are able, whenever you are able, so that resources will be there for you when you need to take some out yourself. That’s how this game is played.
There are as many ways to help as there are needs to be fulfilled. You only have to look around you to identify a need and inward to identify a solution you have to offer. Everyone has at least one of the following necessary resources to contribute: Time, Money, Knowledge, Effort, Skills/Talents
If you lack time, contribute knowledge, effort, and/or money.
If you lack money, contribute time, skills and/or effort.
And so on…
If you’re looking for ideas on how to help during the pandemic, here are just a few ideas:
And don’t forget helping those closest to you. Sometimes we fail to notice a dire need in our own households because we aren’t paying enough attention. Put down your devices, turn off the TV, slow down and connect more to notice the holes you can fill right in your own backyard.
There’s nothing easy peasy about experiencing or witnessing suffering, but with some creativity, unity and a generous team spirit, finding a way to claim victory over it isn’t as hard as you think.
Like much of the country’s school-aged kids, my teenagers have been engaged in distance learning for nearly a year now. I’ve been amazed and impressed at the creativity of our educators in surmounting huge obstacles in order to continue providing at least some semblance of an education to their students during this challenging time. But the limitations of this arrangement came into stark view one day last quarter when my daughter came to me, panicked and crying, overtaken by anxiety at the realization that her team was unlikely to meet their deadline on a group project.
The conversation went something like this:
N (daughter): “I don’t think we’re ready!”
Me: “Well, what is left to do?”
N: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Then you should contact the other members to find out.”
N: “I can’t. I don’t have their emails or phone numbers.”
Me: “Well who’s the group leader?”
N: “We don’t have one.”
Me: “Ok, well have you at least completed your part of the project?”
N: “I’m not sure what my part is.”
Me: “Haven’t you had team meetings to discuss who’s responsible for doing what?”
N: “We’ve had meetings, but we never talked about any of that.”
Me: “What did you talk about then?”
N: “We didn’t talk about anything. Everyone just sat there. No one said anything.”
Me: [Thud as my head hits the table]
As unbelievable as it all sounded, it dawned on me that because their “meetings” occurred in online breakout sessions, outside the teacher’s view (unlike in a regular, in-person classroom), the teacher was unaware that this team was struggling to make an initial connection with one another and lacked pretty much all of the other key elements of effective teamwork. It was, however, a golden opportunity to teach my daughter some essential skills that will carry her through life. After all, wasn’t that supposed to be the point of all those dreaded group projects everybody hated in school? Usually one or two people on the team ended up doing all the work because it was easier for them to complete the project on time the way they thought it should be done than it was to figure out how to work effectively as a team. The end result may have been an “A”, but it was accompanied by feelings of frustration, resentment, confusion, and even more dread at the mere prospect of facing future group projects.
The old adage “many hands make light work” is true only when those hands are working together in sync. An effective team is more than just a collection of individuals working toward a common outcome. Real teamwork requires communication, organization, delegation/designation, evaluation, problem-solving, efficiency, and mutual respect. But what do those look like?
Communication - Completing a project without good communication is like trying to have a phone conversation without a signal. Solid communication means everyone is clear on the expectations and responsibilities of each team member, that the frequency and method of communicating works for everyone, and that there is agreement on not only the ultimate goal but also the plan to achieve it.
Organization - Once a communication framework has been laid out, determining an execution plan comes next. You wouldn’t build a doghouse without a blueprint. Tackling a group project of any sort without a plan will only lead to confusion, miscommunication, and wasted effort. Organizing your team begins with defining each team member’s role and responsibilities and selecting a leader (or leaders) to keep everyone on track. Prioritizing, creating a timeline and interim deadlines, facilitating communication, and evaluating progress along the way are all key components of keeping your team organized.
Delegation/Designation - Successful teamwork should flow like beautiful orchestral music, with each member’s perfectly-tuned instrument playing his notes in perfect time and harmony with those around him, always aware of the whole sound and attentive to the direction of his conductor. When each member plays to his own strengths while observing others to learn and improve upon individual areas of weakness, everyone comes away having learned something new. You wouldn’t ask the violinist to play the drums, but he will develop a keener sense of the rhythm by listening to the drummer. And as with any orchestra, your team needs a guiding force, a conductor. Select someone with natural leadership abilities to head the team. Remember that not everyone is suited to that role, and talented players to take his direction are equally important, lest the orchestra remain silent...or worse!
Evaluation - A few months ago, the scientists at Pfizer unveiled a remarkable achievement when they introduced a Covid vaccine developed in record time. Only after months of testing the vaccine on thousands of willing participants was it ready for widespread distribution to the public at large. Without meticulous evaluation of the vaccine’s effects along the way, the citizens of the world would have been at great risk of serious consequences or even death from receiving the vaccine! Waiting until hundreds of millions of doses had been administered to discover a major flaw in the vaccine’s efficacy would have been disastrous on so many levels. The long-term success of any project depends on careful evaluation of your team’s efforts all along the way so that it’s easier to back up and correct course when results are skewing in the wrong direction. Consider up front what tools and methods you will use to evaluate your team’s performance? Who will determine the benchmarks used to measure your success? When will you measure? And how and at what intervals will the findings be communicated to the rest of the team?
Problem-solving - The biggest test you will face as a team is your ability to regroup when the plan goes awry. First, agree not to panic. Seek input from each member and listen to all suggestions with an open mind. Think outside the box. Share past experiences. Perhaps you can adapt a previous problem’s solution to this situation.
Efficiency - Finding the sweet spot in balancing quality of output against the expenditure of time and effort is crucial to reaching the objective by the deadline with satisfying results. An efficient team remains focused on the goal, omits the unnecessary, and stays attentive to the results of self-evaluation in order to correct course when needed. Avoiding conflicts or resolving them quickly minimizes disruption and keeps things humming along. A nimble team adapts and evolves, learning and perfecting as it goes.
Mutual Respect - Have you ever been surprised to learn that your favorite TV show cast members actually dislike each other in real life? Chances are if the show continued successfully for many seasons, it’s because they made a good team despite their personal feelings. Real teamwork doesn’t require friendship, but it does require enough mutual respect to be able to continue working together effectively...to communicate, organize, delegate/designate, evaluate, problem-solve and work efficiently despite your personality differences. Honesty, empathy and kindness, when used together, foster respect. Listen as much as you contribute and remain open to constructive criticism and willing to learn. Focusing on the talents and abilities each teammate brings to the table instead of on their individual quirks or annoyances can generate mutual respect, even between the most viscous of adversaries.
Whether you find yourself forced to work with others, or voluntarily choose teamwork to lighten your load, making the time and effort to ensure these elements are in place first will yield better results and a more positive experience than rushing in headlong, pushing your own personal vision. Teamwork is a valuable tool...when it’s wielded correctly.
The title of this blog is only the first, better-known part of Maxwell’s quote. The rest is, “...but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.”
With these seven key elements, joined by a spirit of unity, even building a dream team will be easy peasy.
Restoring the Broken Bridge
There’s been a lot of talk about unity lately. President Biden made it the theme of his Inaugural address, and leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle have emphasized a need for the country to come together to bridge the growing schism that divides our society. Regardless of your political or societal views, you cannot deny that division and discord yield stress and anxiety...neither of which contribute to easy peasy living. So our theme for the month of February is Unity...because reaching out for healing, sharing abundantly, working together, and meeting each others’ needs is really the only path to true peace and easy peasy living.
There’s a common misconception that unity requires you to suppress your own views, to stifle your voice, or to sacrifice your principles on the altar of communion. But none of that will bring about true and lasting peace, only simmering resentment. Only balance will yield genuine unity. Indeed, we say something profoundly important when we listen to another point of view. We teach how to be respectful of differing opinions by learning to model respectful behavior. We receive grace by giving it. It’s not about giving in, but rather about simply giving. Enough of us on both sides must be willing to invest ourselves in the effort if we are to restore this broken bridge.
The greatest tools we have at our disposal are knowledge, history. and facts. Only by sharing these with each other, can we build bridges that last. Only when we each embrace our dual roles of teacher and student with equal fervor can we bring about real change. Most of us lecture enthusiastically, but fail to take substantive notes on what the other side is preaching, much less to study the roots of their concerns. A dearth of background information leads us to view our fellow citizens as the other side instead of as merely another side of the same multi-faceted jewel.
They say knowledge is power, so if you want to wield power, you must first learn. Real knowledge is fact-based. We live in a time where all our scuffling has blurred the line between fact and opinion. Any attempt at unifying that doesn’t begin with finding and sharpening that line will fail. Your quest for knowledge must include a quest for truth. Check your sources. Do your homework. There is no such thing as my truth and your truth, only the truth.
Lectures, learning and homework all sound a bit drab and boring though, don’t they? Well, not necessarily, especially if you start with the fun stuff! Explore the factual histories, traditions, and beliefs of cultures other than your own. Discover how other ethnic or religious groups observe holidays. Experiment with recipes for traditional foods, listen to unfamiliar music genres, or visit museums and read books to learn more about the contributions of another culture’s heroes and icons. One thing all humans share is a love of good food, beautiful music, historical heroes, and strong traditions. Who said you have to stay in the same boring lane your whole life long?
Basic values like freedom, justice, hard work, faith, and love of family and pets offer additional common ground. While your vision of exactly what each of those things looks like may differ from someone else’s, merely acknowledging a shared reverence for them brings greater understanding of what motivates each of us. Try to identify the fears of your counterparts, not for the purpose of exploiting them, but rather to find ways of allaying them. Chances are they look very much like your own or may even be based on misinformation that you can correct. Use humor to diffuse tense situations and remind everyone that no matter how our viewpoints may differ, sharing laughter always feels better than slinging insults. Connecting on the most basic human level is the first step in repairing the bridge we share.
There’s a funny fact about bridges: You can only cross them if both sides meet in the middle.
Hold the Moment
People say it all the time…”Live in the now”...”Practice being more present”...”Hold the moment”. But what does all that actually mean? How do you live in the moment? Aren’t you supposed to remember the past and plan for the future? How can you do that if all you ever think about is the present? Isn’t ignoring the past and future just plain irresponsible? These are all very valid questions that make living in the present feel so challenging to a lot of people. Isn’t it supposed to be easier? Yes! And once you have the answers to these questions it will be.
First of all, let’s begin answering what it all means by talking about what it doesn’t mean. Living in the present does not mean never thinking about the past or the future. After all, they are equally important components of your life. Reflecting on the past helps you learn lessons you then carry forward with you to help you better navigate the challenges you find here in the present. Planning for the future gives you a sense of hope and provides you with goals that inspire your actions now in the present and begin your evolution into an ever better version of yourself. Both are essential ingredients to living a happy life. But there is a big difference between thinking about the past or future and dwelling in them. The goal should be to use your thoughts about the past and future to help guide your actions in the present. It’s important to realize that action can only take place in the present. You cannot act in the past...you can only learn from the actions you once took. You cannot act in the future...you can only plan the actions you hope to take when you get there.
Most of us have a natural tendency to spend way more time on reflecting and planning rather than we do on actually doing. Living in the present means flipping those proportions. It requires a continual, conscience decision in the present to change. That’s why it feels so hard sometimes. I don’t pretend to be past the hard part yet, but logic, experience and hope tell me that - just as with any other habit - living in the moment gets easier with practice. And guess what? Reflecting and planning are often solitary activities. If you want to connect more with the people around you, spend more time in the present.
Try some of these actions, or start with just one and gradually add more over time:
We are all living through an era of great uncertainty, where longing for the past can be a futile and depressing exercise and planning for the future is virtually impossible without more information. There is no time like the present to start living more in the present. With a little practice and a new perspective, even holding the moment can be easy peasy.
Socializing While Distancing
One of the most difficult aspects of social distancing is finding new and creative ways to stay connected to friends and loved ones. Zoom and FaceTime are great tools for having "face-to-face" conversations, but they are merely delivery tools much like FedEx or the postal service delivering a package. They do not replace the contents of the package itself. Traditional socializing has always been about so much more than just seeing someone else’s face while we interact. It also meets our need to celebrate milestones up close and in person, to burn off excess energy in real time as a group, work side-by-side in achieving a common goal, and exercise our collective creativity...all needs that are difficult to meet in this challenging time of social distancing.
In other words, sometimes we need more than just video conferencing to restore our sense of connectedness. Besides, Zoom fatigue is becoming a reality for many, especially now that so many of us use it for school and work. Below are just a few suggestions for ways to jazz up your socializing while maintaining a safe distance.* Best of all, none of them require a video stream!
Outdoor BYOP Movie Night (ok, this one requires video, but not that kind of video!) - All you need is a projector and a large screen or blank outside wall to host a family-friendly screening for your friends and neighbors. Allow plenty of distance between viewers and encourage participants to bring their own drinks and popcorn.
Drive-through Birthday/Graduation Parade - Encourage friends and family to drive by your house at an appointed time in cars decorated with balloons while the “guest of honor” stands outside to greet them as they drive by. Music and individually-wrapped candy or gifts tossed out the window are optional.
Outdoor String/Percussion Ensemble Concert - Medical experts have expressed concern about singing and some types of wind-blown instruments spreading the virus across a distance to an audience, but string and percussion instruments are safer and the performers are able to wear masks too. Set up a stage in your town square, or simply gather your neighborhood musicians on your driveway for a socially-distanced performance.
Patio Talks - Invite a few friends over to your outdoor space for an in-person visit. Be sure to wear a mask, maintain your distance and don’t share food or drink with members outside your immediate household.
Outdoor Olympics - Form teams from within your own household to compete at a distance with teams from other households. Suggested events include relay races, timed obstacle course (one participant at a time), horseshoe/cornhole/croquet tournament, bike/running races, and long jump.
BYOF Bonfire - Each family brings their own hotdogs and s’mores to a bonfire. Wear masks and maintain a distance while telling stories and playing socially-distanced games like cornhole, horseshoes, frisbee or croquet.
Sidewalk Chalk Gallery Walk - Neighborhood artists create chalk masterpieces on the sidewalk or driveways. Then invite neighbors to stroll through the neighborhood on a gallery walk and leave comments of their own in chalk.
Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt - Text or email out a list of items that can be seen from outside throughout the neighborhood and set a start/stop time for finding them all. The household who finds them all first wins. Cover a wide enough area that people can easily maintain distance while searching.
Tag-Team Community Project - Put your heads together to come up with a multi-step or assembly line project that benefits your community. Then assign each step or responsibility to a different household. Each family can photo-document their efforts to create a shared sense of accomplishment with the entire group.
Outdoor Storytime - Gather outside at a distance while wearing masks to listen to a family-friendly story narrated by a natural storyteller in your group. Encourage each family to bring their own copy of the book to better view the pictures. Having the storyteller use a microphone will reduce loud talking/shouting which can contribute to spread of the disease.
Round Robin Storytelling/Play - This is similar to Outdoor Storytime, only each family takes turns acting out a scene from the story for the audience. It can be an established story or play, or each family can add to a made-up story, improv-style.
What are some ways that you are staying connected? Share your ideas in the comments!
Hopefully the Covid-19 crisis will be behind us either this year or next, but it may not be the last of its kind. Finding new ways to maintain our social fabric even in the face of a pandemic will only strengthen us as a society for generations to come.
With a little creativity and a few willing collaborators, even socializing while distancing can be easy peasy!
*You should still wear a mask and maintain a distance of 6 feet between you and members of other households during each of these outdoor activities as well as refrain from sharing food or drink with individuals that are not part of your immediate household.
Finding Your Focus
If you're suffering from what I call "Covid Fog", you are not alone! Almost everyone I've talked to has experienced this phenomenon on some level during the past six months. Covid Fog is when you have difficulty sharpening your focus and/or maintaining it for as long as you used to before the Coronavirus pandemic shooed each of us into our respective corners of quarantine. Several factors contribute to creating Covid Fog: looser schedules, more frequent interruptions, lack of structure, changes in routine, mild depression, fatigue, boredom, grief, a dearth of motivation, and lapses in self-care are just some of them. Whatever the cause, the results can affect everything from your job performance to quality of life issues. Adopting strategies to help you find your focus is an essential first step in coping with the uncertainty that is 2020.
Here are my top tips for finding and maintaining your focus:
With a little intention, perseverance, and these strategies, even finding your focus through the Covid Fog can be easy peasy.
Could it be that it was only eight short months ago when we were ringing in the new year and ushering in a brand-new, shiny decade full of hope? The anticipation of the coming U.S. presidential election and Olympic Summer Games energized the country and the world. In our house, it was the beginning of the countdown to our first-born starting her senior year of high school in September and turning 18 in October. Our son was eagerly awaiting a summer of hard training for his next vigorous cross country season in the Fall. My organizing business was finally booming and my husband’s career humming along very nicely. 2020 promised to be a banner year for the Sheridan family.
Then BAM! Seemingly out of the blue, a pandemic of epic proportions, quarantines, school closures, sports cancellations, postponed primaries...followed by murder hornets, protests, wildfires, hurricanes, fire tornadoes…and worst of all, death--lots of it, job losses, endless bread lines, potential foreclosures, and financial ruin for many...all piled up in a big heap, bringing everything to a standstill. The old saying that the only things in this life that are a certainty are death and taxes never hit more close to home. So here we are: at the crossroads of hope and uncertainty. What now? How do we merge these two seemingly divergent paths into one? How do we maintain hope amid all this chaotic uncertainty?
First, let’s take a step back to consider just why confronting uncertainty is so uncomfortable for most of us. Perhaps it’s because it threatens our need to feel in control. If we can’t see a roadblock up ahead, we can’t take an alternate route or steer around it to our advantage. Right now, most of us are just wondering when...when schools and businesses will reopen; when we’ll get financial relief; when a vaccine will be available that can allow us to resume something resembling normalcy. It’s hard to keep up with all the unexpected twists, turns and detours on Rt. 2020. Nevertheless, there are still three very crucial things that do remain totally within our control, should we choose to exert it. Let’s start there:
Whether you are ill (from anything) or fit as a fiddle, the choices you make about caring for yourself will affect how you feel both physically and mentally. Tune in to your body, as well as your soul, and make changes in any of the following areas, if necessary, to improve your well-being:
Whether you are quarantining alone or with others, your overall attitude plays a major role in your ability to cope with your situation. Keeping your outlook positive despite your circumstances will not only boost your own spirits, it can become a beacon of hope for others who may need a reminder of all the goodness still surrounding us. Attitude is how your perspective and priorities dictate how you interface with the world around you.
Whether you are working multiple jobs as an essential worker, furloughed at home desperately seeking employment, or finding yourself in the unexpected role of homeschooling parent, your actions are always a matter of choice and thus totally under your control. How well are your actions reflecting the attitude you want to convey? Are you eating junk food on the sofa, yelling at the other side’s politicians on TV, wallowing in gloom, self-pity and self-loathing, or are you reaching out to make a positive impact, using your available time to engage in proper self-care, helping others, hopeful thinking, and positive self-talk? The choice is yours. Make a good one.
Let's face it: this has been a difficult year so far and the only thing we can be certain of is that yet more uncertainty surely lies around the next corner. But by staying focused on the things that are still within your control, even confronting uncertainty with hope intact can be easy peasy.
Resolving Turf Wars Peacefully
Let's face it...relationships can be hard work, especially when it comes to sharing living quarters. Whether it's with your spouse, roommate, parent, child, sibling, friend or co-worker, occupying the same space day-to-day adds a whole new dimension--and often tension--to even the healthiest relationships. As a professional organizer, I've helped quite a few couples, families and work teams negotiate a peaceful resolution to their turf wars with just a few simple strategies. With good communication, a little compromise, and the right attitude, you too can arrange a ceasefire on some of these common war cries:
He/She never puts anything away!
He/She has too much "junk" and won't get rid of any of it!
He/She wants everything out and easily accessible, but I like the visual peace of having it out of sight (or vice versa).
Sometimes just understanding why you or your co-inhabitants exhibit certain habits or behaviors helps to diffuse the tension in a potentially explosive situation. Don't let your frustration reach the boiling point. Think it through, talk it out, and be willing to compromise.
With a little bit of effort, even sharing space peacefully can be easy peasy!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.