Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thoughts on Our Personal Limits

The new year is approaching. This is the time when some Americans make New Year's Resolutions. In this time the self-help gurus and the overly optimistic tell us all to not set limits and to feel free to accomplish things unhindered by limits or boundaries.

That is dangerous thinking. If you believe it, you are setting yourself up for failure.

I am all for people pushing themselves out of their comfort zones in order to break past the plateau and surge forward to reach a goal. I understand the need to sometimes push through our fear in order to finally do something we think we've wanted to do for a long time but were scared to try. I wish all people would try new things and not be afraid to learn or do something new.

The problem with that line of thinking is seldom is moderation discussed. The truth is we only have some much time in a day to do things and those of us with high ambitions and many ideas will never get to try everything let alone dedicate ourselves to something enough to become skillful or master it. Those of us who are curious want to do so many things! There will never be enough time or money to do it all! Thus people who think that way (like me) go through life thinking we're failing and that we are "not good enough".

The reality is that to do a thing well takes a certain amount of practice and learning. Once you thing you are starting to understand something, you learn more and it is more complicated. In order to do well, you have to keep trying and keep practicing. Then skills are learned and you get better and better.

Learning is hard. Mistakes happen. It is frustrating to learn something new. Even if you think a thing will be fun the truth is, it is hard work to learn it at first. Only when new skills become honed does it get easier. Once the hard part of mastering the techniques that take practice become more automatic can the mind be more free to create and experiment and then it feels more like play and a stress relieving activity than a stress-inducing endeavor.

Things that are experiences are limited by money and time. For example, if you love to travel the world, you will be limited by the money you have available for trips, and your time will be limited based on your personal committments such as your job or being busy due to raising your kids or other obligations.

Americans and women do have lots of freedom compared to some other people living in other countries. Many of us have enough funds to dabble in a hobby or two, and to do a bit of traveling. There are always ways to do things on a very tight budget, if a person is willing to work to figure out how and if they are willing to accept the limitations. For example, traveling by car instead of flying, staying in a less fancy hotel, teaching oneself to paint instead of taking lessons, and shopping for used items (i.e. yarn to knit with, craft supplies) instead of paying full price at a local small store.

If you believe too much that you can do it all and do it all well, and that you have no limits, you are setting yourself up for stress and a feeling of failure about your own abilities which will lead to poor self-esteem. Instead of feeling happy at what you've accomplished about teaching yourself about watching wild birds and identifying them by sight and sound and using your DSLR camera you may feel badly that you don't have time to teach yourself to bake bread from scratch or to crochet.

I think the key to happiness is to realize we have few boundaries as to what we may choose to do with our time but to realize also that time is finite. Choose carefully what you want to do with your time and money. You may think you want to do a zillion things but if you keep thinking and never plan you risk doing none of them.
Make a decision about what you want to do, keep a small list of one or two new things you want to try. Make a real plan as to how you can achieve it and find the time to do it. Start off slowly. Maybe you only have one or two hours this week to do the new thing. Buy only what you need for that one thing and then commit to doint it. Borrow things if possible, or use free resources, until you see if you like doing it. If you find it's not worth your time, give yourself permission to quit, then get rid of all the stuff you own that you won't be using, and scratch that thing off your list as not being worth your time and energy. Then move on to the next thing.

It is not easy finding balance in life, especially if you are married and have children to raise. Yet, other people with other situations are also busy: teens are busy with school studies, college student's are busy learning, fathers are busy working and trying to see their kids while they're awake, so forth and so on.

Life is a juggling act. You deserve some time to do things that enrich your life and express your creativity or give you some kind of enjoyment. Yet you need time also to eat well, sleep, exercise, spend time with your spouse and kids, and do the many other things that we are required to do to live our daily lives, like doing the laundry and keeping the house clean.

Try to carve some time to do the things you want and then accept that amount of time as sufficient and be happy when you get to do the thing you enjoy. Don't just focus on thinking you never have enough time to do everything you want or you will ruin the good that comes from the activity.

If it doesn't come to you automatically, force yourself to think thoughts of gratitude for the good things you have and the fun things you have chosen to do with your time instead of thinking negative thoughts.  Before you say "I don't have as much time as I want to do this thing", I suggest that you don't think about quantity, think about quality.

Stop the negative thoughts if they intrude into your mind. Happy thoughts put you in a better state of mind for doing the fun things, so that's another reason to keep your thoughts positive!

Life is too short to have our heads filled with negative thinking and self-doubt. Decide what you want to do, make a real plan, set do-able goals for doing the activity each week, then do it. Do things that are worth the time, energy and expense and let go of the rest. Give yourself time to get good at doing something and let yourself enjoy doing it.


elisabeth s. said...

Thanks for the pep talk. . . I often feel a silent pressure to reform or improve or sacrifice something at this time of year, it is irrational but true. In 2011 I began introducing some green living concepts in my household, and in 2012 I plan to continue that. I also plan to build raised garden beds. Those are the big plans, but I still feel like I should do something in the area of self- improvement. Crazy how deep seated this cultural practice is!

I have lived in Texas for 30 years and will never be reconciled to yesterday's 70* temps and fall arriving in december. Wait until february, when we often experience winter spring and summer.

I love your blog! Elisabeth s.

ChristineMM said...

Hi Elisabeth,
Thanks for visiting my blog & leaving a comment.

Have you seen my old blog post on how to make a $10 raised garden bed? Has photos & features my father doing the bulk of the work at my old CT house (sniff sniff for leaving it and sniff sniff for never going to have my Dad help me with handyman projects now that I'm in TX).

I can't wait to buy a house in TX so I can have a real yard and garden again. I'm in a patio home right now.