Five years ago, during my wedding vows, I specifically told my husband, our pastor and all our loved ones I would mess up big. And that I wanted to set expectations low so that I could exceed them (free management tip).
Today I want to simplify life with a reminder of the easiest way to have a great day: Manage your expectations. Okay, that’s not easy. True. I rolled my eyes too. It barely seems advisable. You should totally expect greatness from yourself.
Here’s the thing: Greatness happens in the small, seemingly insignificant things. Not in the appearance of a great vision.
A couple months ago I gave birth to a baby girl. Sister to our three year old boy. They say it is life-changing, and you’ll never be the same. Certainly not recognizable for the first few months to a year. They say to drop everything else because it’s such a really, really, really big deal.
That’s profoundly cool and all, but I didn’t get like a new model me in the mail, or even an alert about a new system update that requires device shutdown. In fact, the kind of sleep deprivation, physical exertion, and new tasks demanded mean the way I think, act and function have taken some serious steps backward.
Supposedly everything is different, but it feels like nothing is.
Or if it is, it’s worse.
Even more interesting, is the main reason I even know this should feel earth-shattering is because the world universally recognizes labor and delivery as a big deal.
Each of us go through super-important, difficult life changes without even the warning or recognition, much less the instruction, or path forward, or handy e-guides for how to thrive in them. So let’s talk about how to thrive in big life transitions. First of all, let’s look at the definition of what exactly, might just be a big life transition. Anything that asks you to change the way you think everyday is a big transition.
These things are all huge operating system resets the interwebs probably won’t warn you about:
- Deciding to make a healthy lifestyle change
- Deciding to change jobs
- Deciding to change the nature of your relationships
- Deciding to wake up at a certain time
- Deciding to kick a bad habit
- Deciding to take up a hobby
- Deciding to start a business
- Deciding to do pretty much anything outside of your normal rhythm of doing life…
But how do we get through these periods?
Well, like I said, the world at least agrees new motherhood is a big deal. So I can research and find guidance on that specific transition. But more important than whether I sleep when the baby sleeps, drink enough water, or am compassionate about infinite mistakes: One pattern kept re-emerging.
Simply having bad days. Like every third day was a crash and burn. I’d find myself stressed out and complaining about everything. Sunshine was too hot, breezes too stirring of pollen from flowers, my adorable daughter too wide-awake, and butterflies… Well. They just needed to flippin’ find another person to annoy.
It felt like taking three steps forward and two back.
Each setback added to the stress of the transition and made the whole process feel even more overwhelming. Now, I’m all for flexibility, and realism: Every day will not be perfect.
It’s delusional to ignore consistent patterns that don’t serve you and never try to correct them.
How do you correct patterns?
Apply the cycle of study and change over and over until the pattern is replaced with a healthy one.
That’s a pretty big thing to do during transition. That cycle and a few other steps will build better days for you.
1- Evaluate: Every task, every day, reflect at some point on whether a task, and the day overall was mastered. Without blame, guilt or shame, get honest about what was mastered and what wasn’t. By looking at variables and constants for each task and day, I come up with some manageable changes and put them to work. Try again and again until the task is consistently mastered.
2- Motivate: Our toddler is awesome. We prepare him for events, new things, and changes by hyping him up about it. “Guess what!?!? We got you a surprise! Super-cool big-boy underoos. You get to wear them instead of diapers now.”<–That worked. “You get to go to a party Saturday! There will be cake, and games, and your friends…” <–That too. And etc. Sounds silly and totally transparent, right? It TOTALLY works for adults too.
Give yourself something to look forward to. Make sure it’s within your control and healthy so you’re not setting up a disappointment or bad habit. Maybe you love your morning coffee, or a shower, or smiling at your husband. The night before, in your mind so no one looks at you funny, hype it up. Get your mind ready for the good things of tomorrow.
Got it? Those two alone have a big impact.
Here’s the clincher. And I’ve absolutely found a relevant rhyming verb for the win.
3- Congratulate: (See that?) In times of change, it’s easy to look at everything that’s different, no longer comfortable, reliable, predictable or effortless… And complain about it. The problem is, you get through transitions by thinking effectively. Pretty soon your mind adjusts to the new rhythm and you build until the next big transition. If your mind is filled up with complaints, it’s not able to work to guide you through the transition.
Some reminders: A complaint is a negative thought about something that already happened. It’s also a habit. We can’t change what happened in the past. We need our minds to move forward. Thinking badly about the past is a quadruple time waster: First, it doesn’t change anything. Second, it makes you relive (re-feel, re-suffer through) the bad moment. Third, it ties your thoughts up when they could be figuring out how to win at what hasn’t happened yet. Fourth, that wastes valuable, fleeting time. Your thinking can and will eventually be focused on how to get the best possible outcome from every moment and every encounter. That’s a win.
For every complaint, consider whether there might be someone, somewhere, who wishes they had what you see as a problem. For example, my nightly thoughts were: “Ugh. I’m so exhausted. All the muscles I strained today hurt. Tomorrow, again, I’ll wake up engorged, and sleepy.”
Every one of the reasons for those complaints are someone else’s prayer: “Please give me use of my body. Give me a marriage. Give me children. Give me more milk to feed my baby. Please let me wake up in the morning.”
(Do turn away from any thoughts about being a selfish jerk. While perhaps true, they doesn’t serve you.)
With that new perspective, congratulations are in order: “I accomplished so much today! (Trust me, getting through a day and being able to think through self-motivation is an accomplishment.) My muscles really got a workout! I’m still married! (Okay we can set that bar higher.) My kids are thriving! I’ve got milk! I slept!”
Yeah… I’m not saying I’m a brat. But as it turns out, I can be a lot more like the average three-year-old than a 40-year-old should be.
As long as we’re getting better, steadily, it’s all good.
There’s way more to me, and I know there’s way more to you, than bad days.
It’s all still working out.
I hope these words push you to think a little differently, and to keep going. To reevaluate how you see things. To know every moment of every day matters. To value your experience, and make sure you never underestimate how powerful and important your survival and total health is.
This is me.
On a journey.
I don’t know exactly where we’re going.
But I know the way.