Tag Archives: making changes

The Road To Permission

By Guest Author Arlene Schindler

In my 20’s when friends were seeing the world, I thought it was smarter to work and make money, build a career and build savings.  I denied myself adventures because I thought I couldn’t afford to spend the money or the time.  I still postpone things I really want to do and instead do the things I have to do, concerned about my unknown future and the fact that I might miss an opportunity to make extra money, or something unknown or unspecified.

It took the sudden death of a 58 year old friend to remind me that health is wealth and time is fleeting.  She got sick on a Tuesday and was gone that Friday.  She had weekend plans, a dental appointment, and a date to meet with her accountant for her tax returns.  Six months earlier, I envied her last minute mad dash to visit friends for a week and attend a play opening in NYC.  She knew how to plan and enjoy life.  Now she’s gone.

What was I waiting for?  Life is short and so was my ex-husband…the one decision I did not make carefully.  A short marriage to a short man.

At 56, when I announced to friends that I was taking a trip to China, more than one woman said, “You can afford to go to China?”  It was as if I was being irresponsible or wrong.  It’s been my experience that many Boomer women, daughters of mothers who grew up during the Great Depression, can’t or won’t allow themselves a big treat.  Sure, they’re always up for retail therapy, maybe a pair of shoes or a facial, but NOT to take two weeks out of their life to explore a new culture.

Like many of my friends, I was STUCK on the treadmill of struggle.  I tell myself there are real and substantial challenges: not enough money, ailing parents, etc.  But some of it is self imposed.  I don’t have enough time. What if I leave town and that job I went on three interviews for comes though?

It’s easy to focus on what I don’t have because then I can dismiss or postpone dreams and feel safe.  But what if I granted myself permission?  To dream?  To eat a second piece of pizza or a plate of cake?  What if nothing terrible happened AND my pants still zipped closed?  What if instead of visiting my sick mother after work, I spent that time getting a massage, so that the following day’s visit to her I’d be more cheerful and energized?

If I waited for more money or a better time, I might not have the knees or endurance to take a vacation.  I planned my trip, booked it on the biggest airfare sale day of the year, budgeted my expenses accordingly, and paid it off over time.  Plus it gave me something to look forward to.  When I stopped dreading challenges or obsessing about why I couldn’t do things, something miraculous happened:  I started thinking of ways to make things happen.  “I’m giving myself permission to do this, even though I don’t know how I’ll complete it or pay for it or get there.”

I remember as an eight year old, when it came time for double-dutch jump rope, I always watched, waiting for the two twirling twines to be at the perfect angle for me to jump in.  It was never the right second for me.  I waited too long and feared I’d do it wrong.  I watched and waited, and then it was dark out.  I never jumped in.  At mid-life I’m peaking and no one is looking.  So I’m jumping in now.

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AUTHOR INFO

airbrushed 1 EdArlene Schindler was a Relationship Expert/Guest Guru for America On-Line’s Love-on-Line and a writer/editor for WOMAN Magazine and Playgirl.  She originated the comedy review column for The New York Post, writing reviews and profiles of comedians appearing in New York City.  She’s written for The Los Angeles Times, Daily Variety, and Creative Screenwriting.  Arlene is a regular on the spoken word circuit in Los Angeles, telling tales of women’s secrets and desires; a raucous romp through the hidden lives of today’s “mature” woman.

WEBSITE LINK:  http://arleneschindler.com/

BOOK INFO

The_Last_Place_She'd_Cover_for_Kindle 2 EdThe Last Place She’d Look is an uproarious novel about a self-help writer anxiously facing a milestone birthday by compulsively searching for a serious relationship.  Is Sara having a mid-life crisis?  Will lots of sex be abundantly fulfilling—or just create more laundry?

The sex lives of women ages 45-60 are laughably laid bare in this raucous romp as the sexual sizzle of Fifty Shades of Grey coupled with the cozy humorous absurdity of Bossypants offers readers vicarious thrills and bittersweet laughter.  Or think Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City babes, a decade older, with real life clothes, shoes and hair, set in Los Angeles.

Book contains explicit language and includes opposite sex scenes as well as same sex scenes.

Changing Direction

Sometimes we choose to change; other times we’re forced into it.  Rarely does change happen spontaneously and easily as a result of an epiphany—which means if you want to change, it’s probably best not to sit around waiting for an epiphany to strike.

Forced changes can be strictly external when something in a person’s life changes and requires an adjustment.  If there’s no concurrent inner change, then the person will just recreate a life similar to the previous one.  Forced changes also come about when “rock bottom” is reached.  Behavior that creates negative consequences is repeated until the person reaches a crisis point and has to make what is basically a life-or-death choice.  To reach this point, all warning signals and insightful feelings related to the behavior have to be denied or suppressed.  When a person’s breaking point is finally reached, making a major internal shift is the only way to survive and go forward.

Change by choice seems preferable.  Yet, it’s often the most complicated and challenging route to take.  Even becoming aware of the need to change is tricky.  Not only are we reluctant to change for fear of making our lives worse, but we all have blind spots.  What we tell ourselves about who we are often doesn’t match the way we spend our time or the types of people and things we surround ourselves with.  But just as a mirror makes it possible for us to “see” our own eyes, our external world reflects back our real goals, our true beliefs, and our actual selves.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy to accurately observe ourselves in the mirror of our external world.  It’s an acquired skill that takes honesty, courage, and compassion.

Once we become aware, we can make an external change, such as modifying a habit, or an internal change, such as modifying beliefs or goals.  Any starting point works because external changes eventually lead to internal changes and vice versa.  However, inner changes usually create results more rapidly and easily.  External changes that modify behavior take more time, need a certain amount of willpower, and are prone to relapses.  But both internal and external methods require conscious commitment and persistent effort.

Too bad epiphanies are so rare.  If only we could intuitively know what needs to change in order to live better lives and then just as effortlessly make that change, rather than being forced to change or forcing change through self-modification.  But epiphanies have a spiritual element to them, and people haven’t learned how to meld the physical with the spiritual yet.  We have, in fact, concentrated on the physical more than the spiritual because it’s more readily observed, measured, and explained.

For the past year, I’ve been trying to make a change by choice, rather than wait until I hit rock bottom or wait even longer to experience an epiphany.  Yes, I’m talking about my clutter and disorganization problems again.  My approach has been to combine inner changes with external changes.  I’ve worked on expanding my awareness of all the negative consequences of clutter and disorganization and the positive aspects of having fewer possessions. 

This is a reversal of previous beliefs and habits, because, like most people, I’ve spent my life trying to acquire more things.  The problem is once a person’s physical needs are met, acquiring additional things is about trying to fulfill emotional needs.  Possessions come to represent security, happiness, success, and even love.  And it’s the emotional connection which makes it so hard to stop acquiring more things and even harder to let go of possessions.  How can you ever have enough happiness or too much love?  But the truth is, acquiring and hoarding excess possessions actually represent very different emotions—ones such as fear, insecurity, and neediness.  And no amount of possessions will ever assuage these emotions.  So dealing with serious clutter problems usually requires finding a way to detach the emotions from things.

Besides working on these inner changes, I’ve been making external changes.  For the most part, I’ve stopped buying things unless I actually need them or plan to use them immediately for some activity.  And every time I do buy something, I try to get rid of at least two items.  Decorative items have been the easiest for me to reduce.  I focused on keeping only those things I love and have a place to display them.  For gifts from others, I selected the ones that best represent our relationship.  The most difficult category for me to deal with is the “I might need it or want it in the future” items because that involves various security/insecurity issues I have.  But sometimes asking myself if the item is replaceable at an affordable price helps.  If it is, most of the time I can let it go, with the understanding that I’ll replace it when I actually need it.  During the past year, I held a garage sale, donated other items (by the bag load), and recycled most everything else.  There’s been very little that ended up in the trash.

For those areas that were really out of control, the only way I’ve been able to make significant progress is to require that these things earn their space.  Books, for instance, are particularly difficult for me to get rid of.  Not only did I have bookshelves everywhere, but I had an overflow of books in bags, boxes, and piles on the floor.  Initially I focused on getting rid of ones that were easy to let go.  After several passes through my collection, I worked on specific categories I wanted to reduce and made some dramatic reductions in those.  Eventually I was able to get rid of three small bookcases (in my garage sale), although that required putting some books in boxes to be sorted through later.

It still wasn’t enough, so that’s when I switched to making books earn their space.  I decided how much room each category would get and then emptied the shelves.  Now as I sort, I have to specifically choose to keep a book.  In a sense, I’m “repurchasing” the book and can only do it if I have room for it on my bookshelves.  I’ve been able to get rid of a lot of books simply because I’m unwilling to give them precious shelf space.  With this system, I believe I will be able to winnow them down enough so they all fit on the remaining shelves.  Of course, I have to admit that my secret weapon is my new Kindle which already has more free ebooks on it than I’ll ever be able to read.  But when it comes to reducing clutter, one needs to use every trick and tool available.

I wish I could say that I’ve solved my clutter problem and made significant, permanent changes in my life as a result of my year long effort.  I wish I could share some impressively brilliant insights that would make dealing with clutter or changing one’s life easier—for myself and for others.  Maybe I should have worked harder at having an epiphany.  But even though it’s taking much longer than I had hoped, I’m still heading in the right direction and continuing my slow slog through my clutter.  Perhaps I should take comfort in the fact that I did accomplish more than fifty percent of the goal I set for last year.  After all, everything takes at least twice as long as you think it will.  I probably won’t write about my clutter problem again unless I do discover some amazingly effective technique or have an epiphany of some sort.  On the other hand, I might not be able to resist doing a happy dance if I ever reach the point where I can say, “I did it.”

Self-Management

by Lee Sinclair

Self-management seems to have fallen out of style.  For some illogical reason, we have come to believe that we can improve our lives and the world we live in through changing or manipulating external events and other people.  Even more illogically, we think it’s easier to change external events and other people than it is to change ourselves.  Well, perhaps it is, but only because we’ve lost the ability to manage ourselves.  The truth is, the only thing we have any real control over is ourselves and the choices we make.  We can’t control what happens to us or the behavior of other people.  Yes, our choices can make something more likely to occur.  But we can not control results.  So our focus should be on what we can control—ourselves, our choices, our behavior.

In order to effectively manage ourselves, we need to be self-aware, that is, to have adequate knowledge of ourselves and our behavior.  But we spend so much time automatically and unconsciously acting or reacting while thinking about other things we’re seldom aware of our actions.  We are a preoccupied society.  We think we’re aware until we start paying attention to what we’re really doing or, even more revealing, keeping a log of our activities.  A written account exposes the truth, and we are usually amazed by it.  Do I really watch that much TV?  Or spend that much time on the Internet?  Did I really fritter away that much money on impulse and on stuff I don’t care about?  Do I really waste that much time on inefficient solutions, unsolvable problems, or things that don’t matter to me?

So the first step is to create a current and accurate picture of who you are and how you spend your time.  Not as a self-judgment, but a simple evaluation.  That still takes a whole lot of honesty.  And you need to look at all areas of your life and from different perspectives.  Who you are is a combination of what you do, what you think, and what you feel.  The specific information you need is what you do, how you do it, when you do it, where you do it, and why you do it.

After you gather the information, you evaluate it by using categories, grouping similar activities, and looking for patterns.  Diagrams, grids, or charts can be used to break down your life, using subdivisions such as work, family, social life, and recreational, creative, and educational activities combined with the subdivisions of physical, emotional, and psychological needs.  Gather and evaluate the necessary information in whatever way best suits you, as long as it gives you a clear enough picture of yourself and your behavior.

Once you know yourself, you can determine what areas you’d like to change, what goals and values are important to you, what habits you’d like to modify or discard, and what new habits or skills you’d like to add.  Of course, that’s easier said than done.  Any change is difficult and takes effort.  We’re comfortable with what we’re doing, even if we’re not particularly happy about it.  We also feel “better” when we’re doing things we’re already good at.  Learning something new can make you feel really inept and stupid.  But people who want to excel spend most of their time working on areas where they are less proficient and on learning new skills, rather than practicing what they’ve already mastered.

Habits are particularly hard to change, partly because they’re ingrained patterns of behavior and partly because we usually don’t want to change them.  So unless we pay attention to what we are doing, we’ll fall back into the old habit pattern.  And more often than not, we want a different result but we don’t really want to change the habit that created the result.  We may want to lose weight, but we don’t want to change our eating habits.  At least not permanently.

Sometimes we won’t be able to change our behavior until we reexamine and change the belief that causes it and address the fears behind it.  Frequently, that belief arose from an old situation that was either misinterpreted or no longer applies, so the belief needs to be reevaluated based on updated knowledge and your current situation.

The reality is we already know all these things, but we probably won’t make much use of the knowledge.  We’ll continue as we are, only changing when forced to by other people, external circumstances, or serious negative consequences.  Essentially, we have fired ourselves as our managers—and deservedly so, given the bad job we were doing.  But then we gave that job to no one in particular, to everyone and everything else.  Our lives have become someone else’s responsibility, someone else’s fault.  We need to rehire ourselves, and this time provide more training and support, so we’ll do a better job than before.

The consolation is even one small change can make a huge difference in our lives.  Since everything is interconnected, a change in one area has a ripple effect which expands into every other area of our lives, continuing outward and changing our external world, as well.  So start small with a pebble or even a grain of sand, if that’s all you can manage.  It will make a difference.

You see that tiny grain of sand, the one right next to the giant, immovable boulder.  That’s the little bit I’m working on right now.

Also posted on my Sinclair Stories Blog.