Posted in Soapbox

Putting the U in Fun

Here it is, the third week of January…and how are those resolutions coming along? If you followed my recipe for success, they are probably coming along quite nicely! Of course, if you actually want to make some changes, you may already be struggling to stay focused on your goals.

Resolutions are often of the “lose 10 pounds” or “eat healthier” variety—those things that we know we should do but often let fall by the wayside as we get caught up in the day-to-day swirl that consumes us. By the third week of January, a lot of us have let go of these goals and added another checkmark to our failure list.

While some of us don’t actually make resolutions, I believe it’s important to pause and evaluate what’s what. I don’t personally make “official” resolutions, but I do think about changes that I would like to make in the coming year and aim for them. And I know one of mine that should most likely be one of yours, as well:

Play more.

We need to purposefully make ourselves seek out fun. Not just because it’s fun to play…but because our brains literally benefit from it. You may remember my love of Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelmed Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. In it, Schulte provides solid research about our need for play. Need. Not want. Play allows our brains to reenergize and function better. Without it, our brains don’t get bounce-back time…and our brains need that in order to perform more effectively.

 

Dogs know how to play...so should we
Dogs know how to play…so should we

 

Schulte also explains how this is a particular need for women—that women are historically encouraged to feel that we need to earn our play time or at least be productive while we’re at it (quilting bee, anyone?) Historically men have set aside playtime with little or no guilt, but women…well, we all too often feel guilty for having fun. (Remember this is a gender generalization—I’m sure some of you guys feel guilty playing golf or having poker night, so don’t whine at me. We are talking about historical fact here, people.)

We all need to give ourselves permission to have fun. We need to look at the world around us and not just see the work that needs doing but the fun that needs having. And we need to do it without guilt. Making free time (gasp!) for play is not a crime, though our culture of busyness often makes it feel that way.

 

skating
all seasons offer unique play opportunities

 

I don’t know about you, but I almost always have a cloud of “shoulds” over my head no matter what I’m doing—including play time. If I’m playing a game with my son, I’m remembering that email I need to follow up on. If I’m going to watch a favorite show, I should probably do it while folding laundry or ironing. And if I choose not to be productive while I’m watching, then there’s a little pang of guilt that pokes at me.

Sound familiar? Schulte describes that as “contaminated time.” We may be doing something leisurely, but responsibilities keep creeping in and contaminating the time—reducing the positive effects of play.

SO…what would it look like if you made a resolution to play more? It would show up in both little and big ways. Playing that game with your child and being fully present (no thoughts of work!) or simply going for a bike ride and breathing in the fresh air. Or maybe it’s simply letting yourself get lost in a book. And when guilt or worry creeps in, recognize it and tell it to scram. This is play time, bucko.

 

a birthday treat from a few years ago
a birthday treat from a few years ago

 

Playing in bigger ways is also important. Maybe there is something you’ve always been wanting to do but haven’t made the time for it. Make it. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to throw a pot (like, on a pottery wheel…not across the room, though if you find that fun, go for it) in order to reenact the scene from Ghost where Patrick Swayze does his own kind of pot-throwing. Or perhaps you’d love to know what it feels like to drive a race car. Or ride a horse. Maybe it’s something as simple as setting aside a monthly play night with some friends that you treat as sacred—that time is non-negotiable for anything else.

However it works for you—play more. You don’t need permission. You don’t have to earn it. If people give you that elitist crap about “must be nice to have time to do X,” don’t let it make you feel like you have to justify yourself. Do it and don’t feel guilty. Do it and be fully present. Do it to help your brain grow stronger.

I know I’m sounding like a Nike commercial, but it’s true: just do it. Play.

You’re worth it.

 

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Posted in Soapbox

Part 2—Can We Crack the Culture of Overwhelm?

In last week’s post, I hit on a few key points from Brigid Schulte’s New York Times bestseller, Overwhelmed—Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time that touched on why so many of us feel overwhelmed. This week, I’m focusing on some key strategies that will help “crack the culture” of why we feel this way.

Before I go any further, though, I want to take a moment to clarify something. This book is about helping both women and men make better choices for a more fulfilling life. There is no bias against either gender—just an examination of what is and why, and then ways to help everyone make better use of their time. Translation: Men, this book is worth reading for you, too.

I want to offer some takeaways for you to chew on right now, but I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is to read the entire book. And as I said in last week’s post, this is not a paid endorsement. I just want to share some of what I found so valuable and maybe motivate you to do your own thinking and searching…and changing.

So…where to begin? As the title suggests, the book is broken down into the three areas of work, love, and play, and Schulte examines and offers help in each.

Apparently I can’t be that structured today, so…in no particular order…the takeaways…

Find your pulse—I keep thinking that if only I had large blocks of uninterrupted time to focus, I would be much more productive…but we aren’t actually built that way. There is a rhythm—a pulse—to our lives. We inhale…and exhale. And we need to spend time working…and recovering. It’s how we will do our best work. Schulte shares research that shows that working in 90-minute stretches and then getting up and shifting gears entirely for a short period of time will greatly increase productivity. Find the pulse that works for you.

Choose your priorities—figure out what’s truly important to you and then live your life accordingly. Realign your time to focus on those choices. If you were to pick only a few things to focus on, what would they be? For instance, if spending time with your family was one of them, does your time focus reflect that?

 

priorities

 

Push yourself to play more—active play is actually a necessity for your brain. By giving yourself leisure time—time to explore, laugh, try something new—you are allowing your brain to reenergize and function better. Both historically and currently, women need more help than men in this area. We all need leisure time—and we don’t have to earn it first. Do not feel guilty about making time to have fun. If we can knock that stigma off its ridiculous high horse, we will lead healthier lives.

 

Yeah, that's me surfing
Yeah, that’s me surfing

 

Denmark isn’t rotten after all—Schulte spent some time there learning what the Danish culture can offer those of us who are struggling with overwhelm. Let’s just say it is indeed a world away from American culture. The government there offers excellent formal child care, awesome paid parental leave, six weeks paid vacation…you get the idea. In Denmark, every day is meant to be lived well. You don’t live to work, you work to live. So…what if you don’t live in Denmark?

I concluded that while I don’t have the governmental realities of Denmark, I could still strive for my own private Denmark. What does that mean? As Schulte illustrates, gender roles there are very egalitarian. Women and men share responsibility in work, care of the home, and the raising of children. Work is necessary but not everything, and life shouldn’t be consumed with it. I know I am blessed that my husband already sees our marriage as a team, so our goal is to make it be even more that way. When that happens, both partners win. There is also the Danish idea of hygge, which is a lovely approach to life—and something that you can create wherever you live. (Learn more about hygge here.)

On parenting—Yes, this is the generation of the “helicopter parent” as well as the over-achieving parent. We are not doing our kids any favors by giving them so much or doing so much for them. I just love this piece of wisdom that Schulte shares from Kathy Masarie: “Love your kids. Keep them safe. Accept them as they are. Then get out of their way.” Parenting in a nutshell.

On mothers—Mothers need to stop making it so hard for themselves and each other. Stop the cult of “intensive mothering” and stop judging women—including yourself. Support each other rather than compete with one another.

On fathers—Fathers need to be connected from the very beginning to climb out of this culture of overwhelm. Schulte offers some wonderful insight about how important it is for dads to bond with their newborns—creating a foundation for lifelong engagement—and how too often gender roles get solidified when dads can do just as much as moms—and need to. One of the keys for this to happen is that new moms need to give new dads a chance to engage fully—not scoop the baby as soon as it fusses in dad’s arms.

And, finally…

 

hibiscus

 

Be still—pause. In the midst of the racing, remember to stop. Breathe. Remember the beauty of the small moments. Remember that life is short and this is all we have.

 

clock of life

 

I hope these ideas I’ve shared from Schulte’s book get you thinking about some changes you can make. I know not all of us are married or have kids, and a lot of the content seems to focus on those “traditional” roles, but no matter where you are in life, you can strive to stop the merry-go-round of overwhelm that so many of us are riding and learn to live a more fulfilled life.

Of course, that having been said, as I write this I am mired in a day of overwhelm. But I am making progress. Every revolution starts with a first step, right?

Posted in Soapbox

Can We Crack the Culture of Overwhelm?

We have a cultural epidemic on our hands. Past the auto-response “I’m fine,” ask the average person today how he or she feels about daily life, and see how many answer that life is coming at them at just the right speed. I doubt you’ll find one—especially if you are asking a woman. Most of us would probably have the word “overwhelmed” somewhere in our answer.

 

dogs-91536_640

 

How did life spiral out of control on us?

I read a book over the summer that I feel compelled to write about. This is not a paid endorsement or formal book review. This is just me wanting to share some thoughts on what I found to be a powerful and timely book. It’s not my typical type of post, but I ask you to indulge me—I think this will resonate with you and be worth your time.

Bridgid Schulte’s Overwhelmed—Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time was one of those reads that offered me new insights while at the same time found me shouting, “Amen, Sister!” on several occasions.

Schulte is a reporter for the Washington Post, and when she recognized her life was leaving her breathless and constantly stressed, she did what any good reporter does—she researched the heck out of it, and then shared her findings.

And just what are some of those findings? Well, the book is a meaty read, and there is so much more to it than I can summarize, but here are some key points:

  • Current society values busyness almost more than wealth. Think about it. If we don’t have ourselves—and our kids—fully booked, then there must be something wrong with us. We wear our badge of busyness on our sleeves, and the idea of having free time for fun or relaxing is almost shameful. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Oh, I don’t have time to watch TV…” as a response to my asking someone if they watched a particular TV show, I could go on a really nice vacation (if only I weren’t so busy…) We need to stop fostering this attitude and recognize the importance of leisure (more on that later).
  • Our time—again, particularly for women—is all too often what Schulte defines as “contaminated time.” For many moms, no matter what we are doing, the thought process in our head is swirling around what else needs to be done. It’s a form of mental pollution that muddies our present and keeps our stress level higher than it should be. We also need to acknowledge the reality that multi-tasking does not help our stress level and actually lessens our productivity, much as we might like to think otherwise.
  • And on the topic of stress, Schulte offers this upsetting research: when stress is prolonged or constant, it actually shrinks the prefrontal cortex of our brain which can affect the way we think and knock our immune system for a loop. So if you’re like me—frequently asking yourself, “What is going on with me?” or finding it hard to think clearly, then it’s time to assess how much stress is in your world and do something about it. The good news? Reducing the stress can result in better brain health—we can actually undo the damage to the prefrontal cortex by managing and reducing our stress.
  • Even with our ability to work from home and have flex time, the notion of the “ideal worker” hasn’t changed much since the 1950s. Bosses still see face time as critical and billable hours as the mark of success. The US treats its workers a lot worse than almost all of the rest of the world with sparse vacation time and no paid maternity/paternity leave laws. This poses a big problem for both mothers and fathers. As Schulte’s research shows, women suffer significantly—particularly once they have children. Moms are seen as less committed to work than non-mothers. That’s probably no surprise. But here’s something that might be: men actually benefit from becoming fathers…unless they have the audacity to voice that they want to take leave for family reasons. They then get stigmatized and frequently suffer in the work world because of it.
  • The cult of intensive motherhood is a somewhat recent phenomenon that puts amazing and ridiculous pressure on mothers—and it’s pretty much created by moms. We actually give more time to our kids than back in the 50s and 60s (and that includes mothers that work outside of the home), and it’s still not enough. We need to be Pinterest moms and show how super we are. (Seriously, do you remember having themed birthday parties or mani-pedi afternoons with your mom when you were a kid? I bet not.) Intensive motherhood runs on guilt, fear, and ambivalence. A self-sacrificing mother is an ideal mother.

How’s that for a little food for thought? And I’m only touching on a few central points…there is so much more worth delving into. But even with these few facts provided, you can see how it all adds up to overwhelm.

So…is there anything we can do about it?

In next week’s post, I will take a look at some of Schulte’s findings on how we can improve our situation. Yep, it’s my first two-part post…try to contain your excitement…

…and remember to tune in next week for some ideas on how to change this current culture of overwhelm and perhaps stop the madness (or at least put a healthy dent in it.)