A Sunny Focus

What you focus your attention on matters

A not-so-secret happiness hack

Remember the post where I rather dramatically described a meltdown I had when I was feeling like I was not good enough. That not-good-enough episode was absolutely the trigger of the meltdown. There were, however, a whole slew of factors that contributed to its build-up.

It turns out that running a self-hosted blog involves quite a bit more than having an idea, a keyboard, and access to the internet. While those are the three most important ingredients, there are a great many details involved. Every time I think I am walking on easy street, I encounter some new thing I need to learn.

So, it’s confession time! Don’t panic – I’m the one doing the confessing here. You don’t have to confess anything to anyone (except maybe to yourself). Deep breath. Here goes: I am a very messy and disorganized person.

Whew! That didn’t hurt. OK, maybe it stings just a little. OK, it stings a lot. You see, my childhood home, with the notable exception of my room, was immaculate and beautiful nearly all the time. Undoubtedly, all other aspects of my life flowed better due to living in a well-kept home.

Now, for some people, having and keeping their home in this state is second nature. I am NOT one of those people. If you are one of these people, hold tight because my ultimate point is not about cleaning.

My grip on tidiness is frantic and unreliable. When I am not specifically focused on the small tasks that keep my living area neat it all goes kablooey.

This is a sample sized mess. If you wanted to see a life-sized mess, you would have to visit. This is NOT an invitation to see my life-sized mess, just to be clear.

While my life was being consumed by learning and applying the ins-and-outs of it all, any semblance of order in my home slipped away. My inner critic reared its ugly head. So began the standard refrain of nasty remarks –about my housekeeping skills specifically, and my worth as a human being in general. This led to despair, which led to inaction, which snowballed into feelings of failure on all fronts. The culmination of this was the above-mentioned meltdown.

By now I know you’re probably wondering where that “secret” happiness hack is, so I’ll give you a hyper-abbreviated version: Remove as many stressors from your life as you can. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

(Are those echoes of laughter coming from the distance? Oh, that was my laughter at how ridiculous that sounds.)

Ridiculous or not, this is a super-important tip. When you are stressed about something, you often slip into habits that lead to more stress; e.g. allowing worry about blogging to take over my life while the mess in my house spiraled out of control. You may not have the option to eliminate a project at work, and illness generally comes unannounced, but you aren’t stuck in a tar pit of endless stress.

Take control of what you can control.

Discovering what you can control can be as easy as taking a quick and dirty personal inventory. Have you had nourishment lately? Energy drinks don’t count, people. Are you cold? Put on a sweater. Hot? Switch on the fan. Have you moved your body in the last hour? Stand up and walk around even if it’s only for a couple of minutes.

Need I even mention water and sleep? Of course, I do. Make sure you’re getting adequate water and sleep!

Our bodies need us to tend to them. When we’re wrapped up in something that demands a lot of attention, sometimes we lose sight of the signals we’re getting. If they are left ignored, though, the stress adds up fast. It’s amazing how much better we can feel with only a few minutes of basic self-care.

Yes, I did choose a day when I got a kajillion steps. We all have our little secrets.

Sometimes taking control shows up as dealing with “invisible issues.” Suppose your main stressor (the Big Kahuna) is your upcoming speech to the company CEO. There are lots of tips to reduce the fear of public speaking, but that’s not my schtick. For our purposes, we will say you have found and followed all these tips and are well prepared.

Behind the scenes of this show-stealing speech, however, you have tons of things on your mind that are elevating your stress levels.

Each person has their own invisible issues. “What am I going to cook for dinner tonight?” “Did I ever return that permission slip to my child’s teacher?” And, a perennial favorite: “Did I turn off the coffee pot before I left the house?”

For me, the ring leader of this background stress was the gradual progression to an untidy environment.

Yes, there are wrinkles in the blanket, but I’m not fussed. And yes, the dog is mushing down a cushion, but no, she is not spoiled.

Take care of those small things that are hovering at the edges of your conscious mind by planning meals for the week ahead so that you don’t have to think about it every morning, picking up the dog toys littering your living room, or putting away the laundry you’ve been “ironing” every single day by restarting the dryer.

If you feel like you really don’t have time for this, guess what? You don’t have time not to. You’re sabotaging yourself by letting the small stuff stress you to a point where you are unable to deal with the big stuff.

Other times, you gain control over your situation by letting go. It sounds paradoxical, but healthy control is not actually about directing the outcome. In reality, it is about choosing your actions and reactions. Sometimes the best choice is to let go of a stressor, even if it feels like you can’t.

How would your life be different if…You stopped worrying about things you can’t control and started focusing on the things you can? Let today be the day…You free yourself from fruitless worry, seize the day and take effective action on things you can change.

Steve Maraboli

In my meltdown example, I decided not to write a new blog post that week. Instead, I opted to republish one of my older posts. This was a less-than-ideal scenario, but I felt it would be better to republish a well-written post than to cobble something together and post just to post. (Interestingly, once I didn’t have the pressure of having to create something new, my muse arrived and the words came to me with ease.)

When you feel like the stress of the big kahuna is making it impossible to complete the Big Kahuna (or any Little Kahunas for that matter) it’s time to re-evaluate just how critical it really is for you to Do The Thing.

Some questions to ask here: What will happen if this doesn’t get done? Is there a way to fulfill the need in a way that isn’t ideal but will suffice? Can I get help with it or even — gasp– delegate it?

Because it is such a critical part of reducing your stress and living a happier life, I’m going to say it again. Take control of what you can control. Funnily enough, once you do, your life won’t feel so out of control.

If you have any tips you have learned to make life roll more smoothly, please share them in the comments! Questions on where to start? Ask away. Even if I don’t know, someone out there has the answer.

Brightest blessings, Sunny

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