Taking the Plunge

I’m an almost constant ball of anxiety.

I know I’ve said this before, but my MO is just to be worried about everything.

Anxiety holds me back from both work and experiences, it holds me back from big things and small things. It stops me from taking risks or speaking up, and then it punishes me later when I do take a risk or speak up.

How many of us sit in bed overanalyzing a small comment that we made three days ago that probably no one remembers but us? *raising my hands frantically*

One of my personal improvement goals this year is not to let anxiety build up around the little things. One example I have: I hate using the phone.

I hate calling people, I hate when they call me. When I was a teenager my mom told me that I couldn’t learn to drive a car unless I got over either my paralyzing fear of the phone or my paralyzing fear of using the oven. I learned to use the oven.

Unfortunately, unless you choose to live off the grid, you can’t avoid the phone forever.

The more practice I’ve gotten the better I feel about it, but I still hate it. I double and triple-check any phone number before I dial it, I make sure it’s the right one, and I will probably hang up once if they take a long time to answer, then have to dial it again.

In February, the little thing I tried to conquer was putting off making necessary calls.

It does sound like a little thing, but for me I hyperfocus on it until it’s over with. And it seems like I’ve had to make a ton of calls this month.

Yesterday was a big day for me because I had to call the orthodontist to reschedule an appointment, I had to schedule a grooming appointment for my dog, and call to make a reservation for her at a boarding place when I’m out of town in a couple of weeks.

One thing that helped me get through these phone calls was talking myself through it: I’m not inconveniencing the people I’m calling; in this case, all of these were businesses who regularly deal with scheduling and rescheduling, and I was able to finally come to terms with the fact that they wouldn’t (shouldn’t) be annoyed by my calling.

The other thing that really helped me yesterday was what I’m going to call the “Plunge Method”. I’m taking a metaphorical plunge into the cold water, it will feel better once I stop dreading it and just do it.

Disclaimer: this doesn’t work for every situation, but my experience with my February goals has been that it works pretty damn well for everyday things that you have to do and are afraid to do.

How I accomplished this was simple, but I had to be deliberate. I took a twenty-minute break at work and made all three calls in a row.

The orthodontist was my biggest fear (because heaven forbid, I was rescheduling an appointment I already made!), so I called them first. They were lovely, they weren’t inconvenienced at all.

The dog groomer was a delight to talk to (not to mention the fact that I’m no longer anxious that my poor mini Goldendoodle is getting shaggy and I haven’t done anything about it and I’m a horrible dog owner, etc., etc.), and she’s all set to go to the dog boarding place when I’m gone (and I don’t have to worry about not having a plan in place to take care of her, etc., etc.).

In short: this is one instance of how this goal has improved my life. I’m finding that I can call on these experiences when I’m anxious about making a phone call, reaching out to someone new, or speaking up, because these little successes are a reminder that I’m a capable adult who doesn’t need to be as afraid as I am.

I have since used these little successes to reach out to coworkers with new ideas, I’ve gained confidence knowing that even if I fail or think I fail, that at least I tried and I’m still alive and I have more experience knowing what works and what doesn’t.

It’s also even helped in my personal relationships: I was able to help my mother-in-law out with something because I got over my fear of taking initiative, and she found my experience helpful.

It’s still scary, but I’m so much better at applying my “Plunge Method” because I have more experience with it. My anxiety about this aspect of my life is getting better, and I have confidence that it will continue to do so.

I Hate Running.

I am not an athletic person.

I am clumsy and uncoordinated, and not in a cute rom-com sort of way. I don’t look charming when I run into things or drop something, I just look bad.

My husband, however, is super athletic. He went to college on tennis scholarships and now coaches tennis part-time for fun. Two years ago he asked me to start running with him as an activity we could do together, to hold each other accountable and bond over getting in shape together.

I hate running.

Running is boring; unless you take a new route every time you go then everything is familiar and boring, and I just count down the milestones until we get to go home. It’s time-consuming; the further you run the longer you have to be out there.

But running has made me a better person.

Here’s how:

I have to spend a lot of time with myself.

I have a high-anxiety brain. It’s almost constantly going at 100 miles an hour thinking about everything I need to do, need to remember, need to follow up on, etc. I get overwhelmed easily, especially when I’m busy with a task and thinking about the 30 or so other tasks I could be or should be doing at that moment.

Running has helped me to release that tension.

It took a little while. Like I stated above, running is boring, and I often got caught up just counting down the self-made milestones until the run was over.

I had to get over this hurdle in order to find that running (despite the physical tension) is very relaxing. It basically forces me to meditate and reflect on things, and I found that it allowed me to prioritize and think through my processes, and it also gave me time to decide to let some tasks go.

In short, it ended up helping me to relax and take the time to clear my head of its anxieties, mostly because I wasn’t able to do anything else for a specific period of time.

It’s okay to get left behind.

My husband runs way faster than I do.

I never thought of myself as competitive until I met my husband. He’s very competitive and he brought that out in me.

Ultimately I think it’s a good thing, it has pushed me to achieve things that I probably wouldn’t have bothered trying before. However, I started competing without realizing it.

Earlier this year I was supposed to run a half marathon with my in-laws, but on the 9-mile training day, I hurt my knee.

Because my husband runs faster than I do, I was unknowingly trying to keep up with him because I didn’t want him to think I was a wimp.

I discovered that my knee hurt after every run that I tried to keep up with my husband. This sucked because I didn’t want to be left behind. I had to learn to go at my own pace and that I couldn’t make the run go by any faster, I only make progress when I let myself slow down a little and run at a steady (if slow) pace.

It also built trust and confidence: trust because I found out that he would always wait (or run back to me) if I fell too behind, and confidence because I could run by myself and push myself without fear or anxiety, and that I truly was becoming a stronger person for having to do it this way.

Running gets me out of my comfort zone.

As previously mentioned, I am not athletic. It’s never been a part of my identity. I get sweaty, I feel too weak, I want to cry sometimes with frustration, sometimes I have to stop before my goal and walk the rest of the way home.

Running pushes me to get outside of my comfort zone: I feel super accomplished when I hit a new goal, whether it’s a 5K or just running a little bit every day for a week because running is something I wouldn’t choose for a fun activity, it does push me to feel more like a winner when I hit my target.

This has moved into other areas of my life: I’m less afraid to tackle new challenges or learn new skills that I probably wouldn’t have before because I know if I can conquer running, I can conquer just about anything.

I’m not saying I will ever run a marathon (I probably won’t, I’m just not going to rule it out), but having to push myself in this new and initially uncomfortable way has helped me become a better person. I’m more disciplined, I’m less afraid of failure, and I’m more excited to try new things and gather new experiences because I can run.

4 Steps Toward Finishing What You Start

I used to be terrible at follow-through. I knew it: I would start projects and feel sick with anxiety about the fact that I probably wouldn’t finish them. Either I would get frustrated and give up, or something would interrupt my flow and I’d give up, or it was a project that required a lot of time and I would just drift away from it.

This was absolutely one of my worst faults, and I hated it about myself. It got to a point where I wouldn’t even try new things or start tasks because I would just dread not finishing them, or not achieving the results that I wanted.

I knew that if I want to be serious and successful at the things I want to accomplish that I need to finish them. I researched tools for being successful and how to finish projects, and there are some habits that I’ve found really helpful.

1. Dedicate Time

As simple as this sounds, a lot of the time I was “working” on projects that I didn’t finish,  I wasn’t dedicating my time solely to the project. There was always something else going on. Not to say that multitasking is impossible, or that music or a mind-numbing tv show in the background can never be around, but I never fully gave myself to any of my projects. If you dedicate yourself completely to the task at hand for a specific amount of time, you are much more likely to be successful.

2. Find your Flow

The first habit really allows this second habit to form, and it’s such an important one. Research shows that if you find your “flow” you are so much more likely to be productive and creative, and the time you’re spending on a project is so much more successful. Dedicating a specific amount of distraction-free time allows your flow to occur, and allowing yourself to work without finding flaws or fearing failure will result in better habits forming, and better results from your efforts. It can be twenty minutes, an hour, or three hours, whatever you feel you need, just make sure you keep that time dedicated to your project, blocking out all distractions as much as possible.

3. Wake up Early

I know that this one gets a lot of backlash, but hear me out. I know we’re not all morning people, and even if we are that doesn’t necessarily mean we want to be working first thing in the morning, but how you start your day is going to affect all of your productivity. Even just waking up thirty minutes earlier than normal and stretching, drinking water, sitting upright in the silence of the early morning, all of these things can help your productivity. Getting a jump-start on your day and allowing yourself to wake up completely before working will lead to more productivity.

4. Reward Small Victories

I have found this step to be extremely important. If you don’t give yourself small milestones and reward yourself when you pass them, you’re much less likely to succeed in the long run. It’s all about the little things. If you post to your blog twice in a week instead of once, reward yourself. If you run half a mile longer than you were planning on it, reward yourself. If you put all the dishes away instead of just grabbing the fork you needed at the moment, reward yourself. I repeat: it’s all about the little things! They motivate and inspire and they reinforce good behavior. Treat yourself!

After I started forming these habits (one at a time, because they’re milestones, too) I found that my work ethic was better, I was more satisfied with my effort and more likely to finish what I started and be happier with the results.

Asking the Questions

I didn’t know I was a perfectionist until I met my husband.

Up to that point, I had always thought of perfectionists as being more OCD: they didn’t let things go until they were perfect, things always had to be lined up exactly at the right angle, the outcome had to be exactly what they envisioned.

I’m not OCD, but I certainly don’t try things if I think I’m going to fail at them. I don’t put myself out there to be vulnerable, I sit and wait to say something until I think I have the credibility to add to a conversation, and then I feel anxious after I say it because I’m concerned that I look stupid, uninformed, or that my opinion doesn’t matter.

When I started dating my husband, he would get really irritated with me because I wouldn’t ask questions about things I didn’t know. I’d ask conversational questions about how his day was going, general knowledge questions about his job, where he grew up, etc., but if he said something that I had little to no knowledge of or opinion on, I would fake it until the conversation went somewhere else. Eventually, he pointed out that I never asked about things I didn’t know, that I wouldn’t even admit that I didn’t know them.

Up until that point, I had a general idea that I would fake-it-till-I-made-it on topics I didn’t understand, but it wasn’t a conscious decision for me. I don’t like it when I feel stupid, I don’t like the vulnerable feeling of not knowing something, of not being a semi-expert or being informed on a little bit of everything, and I realized after my consciousness was brought to it that it was due to my perfectionism. My fear of failure (due to high self-expectations) kept me from engaging in conversations that could probably have helped me learn more and become more informed.

Now I try hard to ask when I don’t know what someone’s talking about, but I still get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I have to do it. It’s still very difficult and nerve-wracking, but so far I haven’t regretted asking any questions. I still have a habit of resisting the question, though, and I find that more often I regret it when I pretend to know something than when I overcome my fear and admit I don’t know something.

An added bonus to this discovery is also that conversations generally go deeper and are more fulfilling when I ask questions because people want to talk: me asking about something I don’t understand gives them an opportunity to feel affirmed and excited to tell me something new. Instead of judging me like I always feared people would, I found that they are more excited to talk to me because I am able to make them feel important and smart, just like I always want to feel, too. When I ask questions of other people, they are also more likely to ask me questions in return, it’s a symbiotic relationship that I didn’t know I was missing.

It’s still a struggle, and it probably will be for a long time, but I’m very thankful to my husband for challenging me to grow in this way (although at the time I definitely wasn’t happy about it). It was the first step on my road to recovering-perfectionist, and it sparked the awareness to begin this journey towards action instead of anxiety and not let fear stop me from pursuing my goals.

Self-Improvement: The Basics

I read a lot of articles: I read about leadership, project management, freelance writing, DIY home projects, how to be a successful person when you’re an introvert, self-awareness and self-improvement, just to name a few.

The challenge for me is that while I’m often inspired by or gain insight from these articles, I also forget about a lot of them. I don’t take the time or commit to practices to remember their tips, tricks, or inspiration to help me improve or gain new skills and awareness. It’s so easy to fall back onto old habits and old outlooks that I’m just used to, but that aren’t doing me any good.

There are definitely ways to conquer this: I’ve tried about a dozen times to focus on two or three “improvements” for a week at a time, drawing my awareness to things that are as simple as maintaining eye contact when talking to coworkers, or as difficult (for an introvert) as asking them for feedback, or asking them questions that will help me to work and communicate with them better. I’ve also been making a conscious effort not to complain too much at work, which is such an easy trap to fall into and doesn’t do anyone any good.

I recently identified (in all of my Recovering-Perfectionist-Learning) that I don’t like to commit to two or three “improvements” because they seem too basic. In my absurd standards for myself I think that I ought to have achieved these basic steps already, and then I move on to another step that I’m just not ready for because I don’t have the right foundation.

In my commitment to improve myself and achieve my goals and dreams, I have to learn to be okay with starting with the basics. I have to commit to a single aspect of learning and stick to it. I need to stop holding myself to such a high standard of perfection that I could never measure up even if I tried, and start embracing the fact that perfection is a work in progress and that failure is just as important as success. It’s okay if people see me failing, because they also see me trying.

I also have to remind myself constantly that the few things that I have actually committed to have been so fulfilling, even when they haven’t gone smoothly. I often forget how good it feels to stick with something and commit because I’m so afraid of falling behind in other aspects of my life, it’s time to take a deep breath and commit to learning and improvement, no matter how messy and imperfect it may be.

How have you found ways to accomplish your goals and stick with new habits and ideas? I’d love to hear from you!

Managing Stress in Situations Where You Just Can't

So my gum graft surgery was a success, everything went well. Now for the healing process.

I don’t deal well with constant low-grade pain. I did Invisalign last year so I’m familiar with this, but it doesn’t mean that I deal well with it. Needless to say, I’m not a very happy camper right now.

Unfortunately, besides the pain medication, there’s nothing I can do to make this discomfort just disappear. It’s causing me to be short-tempered, it’s causing nausea, and it’s causing me to be claustrophobic and irritable and a million other unpleasant things.

That’s not super nice for the people and dogs that I live with, and frankly it’s not very nice for me, either. For the stress I can’t control that only time will take away, here are a few tips for managing/coping/dealing/handling this situation.

  1. Be Okay Asking for What You Need. Give yourself permission to ask others to be respectful of your personal space (your cuddly dog will forgive you for needing a little alone time), it’s okay to turn off the TV or the music that’s playing, you can ask for a little quiet if you need it.
  2. Mint Tea. I don’t know why, but mint tea always calms me down. It’s okay to take five minutes to drink it in peace and enjoy it before you go back to your daily tasks.
  3. Cut Yourself a Little Slack. It’s okay to not complete everything you normally would: take a deep breath and appreciate what you’ve been able to do today.
  4. Know that Tomorrow Will Be Better. When you’re in pain, every day is a step closer to healing. They say “Time Heals All Wounds”, and that is really only true when you allow it to happen. I find that as long as I believe that tomorrow will be a little better it makes the pain today a little easier to handle.

I know these are simplistic, but honestly I can’t handle anything too complicated right now. They really do help. What tips do you have for handling stress that is outside your control? I’d love to hear from you!

The Next Thing

I’m having a gum graft surgery on Thursday. I’m super nervous.

I know I shouldn’t be: it’s something super routine, it won’t even take an hour, and the recovery time is 10 days. I shouldn’t be worried about it at all.

But I am.

I can’t really explain why, but mostly I think it’s the fear of the unknown. Basically, they have to cut out a piece from the roof of my mouth to cover up some gum damage that won’t heal on its own. The roof of my mouth takes the longest to heal. I’ll be better in 10 days and I won’t have to worry anymore about my tooth rotting or falling out.

As I look ahead trying to plan my projects, coordinating my work life, commute, dog life, wife life, and all of my personal goals, I find that I keep putting it off until “the next thing” is taken care of. I don’t want to plan any goals or make any commitments until my 10 days of recovery are over, and by then we already have another plan that has to happen before my personal goals can take priority.

New goal: make my goals a priority.

Sure, there will always be outside commitments that I have to take care of, I have responsibilities and social obligations, but no one else will make me a priority except for me. I need to recognize and allow my goals to be a priority and be okay saying “no” to some of the other obligations I fall into.

I can also use my mouth hurting as a valid reason to not talk to anyone: if anything, this surgery is a gift because I’ll be able to achieve some of the reading and writing goals that I have set for myself this weekend.

Just like this surgery, my fear of the unknown is what keeps stopping me from writing, it’s what stops me when I’m partway through a piece and causes me to question myself. I just have to keep going with the theme I’m living out this year:

Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

 In the long run, these little imperfect pieces (or gum grafts, or new-recipe-fails, or dying houseplants, etc.) will be stepping-stones towards the success that I’m trying to have in my life. Practice makes perfect, right?

Thanks for reading! Thank you for following me along in my journey towards Imperfection. Please share with me the obstacles that you find in the way of your journey towards your goals, we can make this journey together!