By Jennifer Wolfe-Hagstrom, LICSW
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“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” -John Lennon
Calling all perfectionists and people-pleasers! This one’s for you.
With the holiday season upon us and with many unexpected monkey wrenches thrown in my path recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to do it all. I have some news for you: it’s impossible.
You know what I’m talking about, when we are going about our lives thinking that we have some kind of actual control over what happens and then life happens (i.e. sickness, snow storms, accidents, death, unexpected changes of plan of any kind) and we seem to think we can continue on managing everything seamlessly while also dealing with the unexpected crisis that has been plopped in our laps. How could we possibly be able to do everything?! Where did this unrealistic idea come from? From our old pal Anxiety.
Remember your frenemy Anxiety? She acts all helpful when you are trying to gain control over your life by putting things in order, making plans and lists and systems but then life happens and she’s all, “YOU HAVE TO DO IT ALL! And you have to do it PERFECTLY!”
See she’s a tricky one, Anxiety. She can be very helpful in finding order and assisting you to feel in control but when life happens and she feels like she’s losing that grasp, she can go bananas and expect you to take the reins on everything. She can be a little one dimensional, this Anxiety, thinking that having control is the only way you can live your life.
In reality, there are so many ways you can live your life that don’t include allowing Anxiety to rule your choices. How about your old pal Priorities? What we hold most important in our lives can help guide us in these times of uncertainty. Tuning in to what Priorities has to say, instead of Anxiety, can help you make decisions that are best for you at the time. For example, your child is sick with the flu and you have no sitter but you also have an important meeting with a client at work. Anxiety might say, “Find someone to watch your kid for an hour while you race to work to meet your client and distractedly have a 15 minute conversation before your sitter calls saying that your child has started vomiting again and is crying for you. Then absent-mindedly reschedule with your client after all the last minute planning you did to make it there to meet in person while running out the door to race home to be with your sick child.”
On the other hand, Priorities might say, “Your sick child is more important than your job right now, call to reschedule your client to another day so you can stay home and be fully present with your little one. These days of taking care of him won’t last forever.”
Unlike Anxiety, Priorities can be level-headed, simple, and respect the current situation for exactly what it is. Priorities knows how to put things into perspective and rather than trying to find a way to do it all, can help you figure out what is most important in the moment.
We simply cannot give our full attention to everything all at once. Anxiety would argue that we could give a fraction of attention to everything but Priorities would chime in with, “is that really how you want to live your life?”
While Anxiety is running around trying to gain control over everything, Priorities is observing mindfully in the corner, taking stock and recognizing that all we truly have control over is how we choose to respond and where we decide to focus our energy.
When life keeps throwing things at you, no matter how big or small, this is when Priorities are really important. The truth is you can’t control everything and if you try to you will eventually drive yourself bonkers all the while disappointing yourself and many others. Now I know all you people-pleasers are thinking, “I don’t want to disappoint ANYONE!” I hear you. And I say this with all the love in my heart: you will disappoint people in this lifetime. This is a fact of life. But take a listen to Priorities if this pill is too hard to swallow, “Yes, there will be times when people will be disappointed and you will be able to decide how best to deal with this. You do not cause all of the disappointment in the world, you are simply in charge of making the choices you think are best in a given situation.”
So during this season of events, overcommitments, and unexpected snow storms, I give you full permission to turn down the volume on what Anxiety has to say and tune into what your Priorities have to say. Give this a try and let me know how it works out. What have you got to lose? You know you’ll end up disappointing some people one way or another. Why not take a step to prioritize your own sanity this holiday season?
If you’re liking what you read and are looking for more real-talk, permission granting, and anxiety-understanding take a look at our website and contact me today to set up a time to talk about how we can help you reach your goals for living a balanced and fulfilling life.