Turn Left

It all started with a conversation with my boss a few weeks ago and him adjusting my work schedule by 30 minutes.  The new schedule (8:30-5:30) is a minor change but has made a massive difference in my attitude and lifestyle.

It’s not because I can sleep 30 more minutes; I actually get up early more consistently than before.  The change has allowed three important tweaks to my day.

I hate traffic.  I hate driving while there are other people on the road.  Shifting 30 minutes out of rush hour has drastically changed the traffic that I drive in every day. It’s glorious and means I get to work in a better mood.

Second, this has allowed me to complete my daily disciplines before work.  Every day I read, write, spend time with God, listen to a motivational audio, and communicate with my mentor. (I used to call them daily goals but I now call them disciplines; they are disciplines I commit to, not goals that I strive to accomplish.)

By going in to work 30 minutes later, I am able to complete all of these (except the end-of-day message to my mentor) before I go to work.  This starts my day on the right beat and has led to more good days.

But the reason I changed my work schedule is not about traffic or disciplines; those were unexpected (awesome) side effects.  The reason for the change is simply that I wanted to be able to work out with Donovan every day. Donovan has three 6am classes and three 7am classes.

Having to be at work by 8, there was no way to attend Wednesday and Friday morning classes. Now, with the move to 8:30, I am able to pack a bag, change at the gym, and then go straight to work after his 7am class.

But going straight to work means turning left. And I never turn left.

I have been working out with Donovan since June of last year and I have never missed a workout I was scheduled to attend (except one day when I had food poisoning). These workouts, with very rare exception, have been followed by the drive back to my house, turning right out of the parking lot.

I started this new schedule on the 25th and have attended 7 of Donovan’s 7am classes.  Only one of those 7 classes have I turned left.

One.

I’ve walked out to my car saying, “turn left” and still made a perfect right turn.

Turning right can still get me to work… it just adds a few minutes. It’s not enough of a difference to turn around when I go the wrong way. But it turning right isn’t the efficient choice and I am all about efficiency!

So what’s wrong with me?

I am not afraid of turning left nor do I lack the knowledge of HOW. Turning left is simple and I do it every day … the first turn after my right turn out of the parking lot is a left.

I don’t lack understanding of WHY turning left is the better choice.  I have checked on Google Maps a few times to confirm that it is 2 minutes faster going left than right.

The problem is simply my brain is wired to turn right.

If I averaged 3 workouts a week for the 60 weeks between when I started with Donovan and when I started the new schedule, then that means I left that parking lot 180 times, almost always turning right. In order to turn left, I need to rewire that decision.

To make matters worse, I am not consistently turning left… 2-3 workouts a week are still 6am (Monday is a tossup) and turning right to go home before work. Rewiring the decision so that I turn left after 7am classes is a battle.

While this is comical, there are other ruts in my mind that are much more dangerous.

There’s a rut in my mind that says “one more won’t hurt” coupled with “you’ve already messed up anyway.” This rut is the cause of last night’s failure as I watched one YouTube video and then another and then another until 3:30am, ruining a streak of several weeks without YouTube.

There is a rut in my mind that says “you deserve this” that causes me to take personal responsibility for everything that goes wrong in my life, even when it’s not my fault. This rut has crippled my ability to fail forward because I interpret the failure as an indictment against me as a person.

There is a rut in my mind that says “you will be abandoned” that has me constantly trying to prove I am worth keeping around. This rut makes me smothering and difficult to be with; becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy as it drives people away from me.

There is a rut in my mind that says “God is displeased” that comes from a father who loved me but always wanted a little bit more. This rut causes me to project that expectation on my heavenly Father and constantly seek to prove I’m good enough.

There is a rut in my mind that says “emotions are bad” that causes me to stifle anger and tears until it erupts in ways that hurt myself and others. This rut has been the project this week as I have been having to re-learn it’s ok to cry about my parent’s death.

I could literally do this all day. These ruts are formed over time and they become what my counselor calls “autothoughts.” I can give you all the logical reasons these thoughts are errant and what the truth should be… but the gut beliefs that drive my responses are still there.

Autothoughts are based on beliefs developed by experiences that may be true or false; often it’s a bit of both. A cat that sits on a hot stove will never do so again … neither will it sit on a cold stove.

Some autothoughts are helpful. I honestly didn’t have to think about forgiving Jack; it was automatic.

Some autothoughts are benign. I can get to work from the gym even if I always turn right.

But some autothoughts cause me to act in ways that are illogical and often damaging. They are literally driving my life in the opposite direction of my goals and dreams.

But how do I change my autothoughts? How do I learn to turn left?

The answer is Disruption… but this blog is already too long so I will save that for my next post. (Sorry for the cliffhanger, I got complaints about the length of my last blog.)

Until then, take some time to think about the autothoughts in your own life. Are they serving you?

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Surprise: I’m not Perfect.

So it’s been a while since I wrote and I’ve been asked why so I figured it was time you all knew the truth.

I haven’t been busy working on the estate; what I was able to do is done and so now that is all paperwork on Matt’s shoulders.

Nor have I been away because I am emotionally distraught and unable to form sentences. I’ve actually been writing more than ever before… it’s just not making it online. (Before you get excited, I am not working on a book.)

Honestly, it’s more embarrassing than that.  I have been writing in my journals every day but absolutely terrified to post anything to my blog.

See, what is probably the most common remark I receive about my writing is that it’s so “authentic” and I’m so “honest.” Guess what? It’s easy to be those things when no one is reading what you are writing. There is some freedom in the anonymity that the internet gives you; that’s why cyberbullying is a thing.

Before March 29th changed my life forever, only three of my blogs ever reached 100 views, and probably 5 of those were me trying to get the blog posted and looking right. Over half of my blogs had less than 50.

Since the bus crash, one blog had 700 views … and that is the only blog I’ve posted under 1100. Confused but Confident, my most viewed post, has over 18,000 views! Over 100 countries have read my blog since March. That’s scary.

I’m not just talking to myself anymore.

To further complicate all of this, y’all aren’t random, anonymous viewers who don’t really know who I am either. Y’all know my parents, know me, or at least know about us… like in real life. If you tried, you could find my house.

I know this because you tell me. You write to me on Facebook about how my blogs have impacted you or how you heard about me on the news. It’s come across in text messages and even in some of the hand written cards from the funerals.

But here’s the crazy thing… that’s always been my goal.  I want to write and inspire people to believe that they don’t have to be perfect to go do something and make progress. That’s why the blog is called “Imperfect Progress” for crying out loud!

Somewhere along the way I started believing I must have something perfect to say to be able to write. And that same thought processes started leaking into every area of my life:

I felt the need to have perfect food, or else I might as well eat whatever I want.
I need to have a perfect call plan, or else I won’t do any prospecting at work.
I must have the perfect talk, or just let someone else speak for bible study.
I require the perfect response, or someone else can answer the question.

And this mindset is a dangerous place to be.

I am very blessed to have several men and women I consider mentors who have earned the right to speak truth when I need to hear it. Wednesday night I was sitting across the table from Tony, who has been a mentor to me for over 7 years, and he called me out.

In our conversation, I explained that I didn’t expect so many people to read what I write and that it’s made me afraid. He looked right at me and said that I’ve forgotten who I am. My dream has always been to write books that are read by the world. Here I’ve been given a small taste of what that looks like and I hide under a table?

“But now whatever I write will reflect on my parents,” I refuted.

“And you not writing is reflecting better?” He let me think a minute and then said, “Jenn, you’re better than this.”

That’s when I remembered.

In the pursuit of perfection, there is no room for the errors that create growth. The result is fear of taking action and, thus, no forward motion. Since what isn’t growing is dying, this means that it’s causing me to go backwards.

I will get real numbers Friday, but I know for sure I have gained weight and inches since my parent’s death. That is what happens when eating one bite of a sandwich justifies me to eat whatever I want today because “I already messed up anyway.”

I’ve hired someone to cook for me, because of how crazy life has been, and I have still eaten off plan 2 or so days every week.

And my imperfections don’t end there.

When I am getting stressed out by life and people, I waste hours at a time on YouTube, usually watching something related to Star Wars, Science, or the Science of Star Wars.

My intolerance for imperfections also nearly caused me to sabotage a few very key relationships in my life. When comments or actions were not what I expected/desired, I took those as personal attacks and nearly let it destroy the friendship.

Oh, and I almost changed jobs. Not because I dislike my job or my clients… I actually love both. But because I let myself get fixated on the 5% of my job that is annoying and tiresome. What you focus on grows and I soon began to feel that my work was an unending pile of drudgery and paperwork.

Good thing I have an awesome boss and great mentors who helped me adjust my perspective and realize that my perspective, not my job, was the real issue.

So this isn’t my best article ever. And I am not going to edit it to death to make sure it’s flawless. There are probably several sentences with the wrong structure. It’s totally imperfect… and that’s the reality of who I am.

I’m imperfect and I am striving every day to make progress. I keep trusting God. I keep taking action. And I keep hoping that tomorrow I will be a better person than I am today.

You’re welcome to tag along.

Real Sugar

When I decided to do the Whole30 after Christmas, I really figured it wasn’t much different from how I had been eating.  Basically, my diet with Donovan is lean meats, fruit (in moderation), vegetables, and nuts.  That is the core of Whole30.  Both my diet with Donovan and Whole30 remove legumes, dairy, sugars, and grains … really I just felt I would be trading potatoes (allowed on Whole30) for open meals (allowed with Donovan’s meal plan).

Then I started doing some research … let’s just say Whole30 is a bit more complicated.

With the healthy eating, I started in June with Donovan, I occasionally eat sandwich meat cut up on a salad.  I also use beef jerky, in moderation, as a grab-and-go protein since most protein bars have dairy and they are all loaded with sugar.

With Whole30, you can’t eat anything with cornstarch and a whole list of other processing chemicals… let’s just say the only way to eat meat on Whole30 is basically cook and season it yourself. (Yes, there are some exceptions but they are hard to find and expensive.)

Another adjustment was my homemade trail mix.  I make it with almonds, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, raisins, and dried cranberries.  If you follow me on Facebook you know that I make about 30 little bags of this at a time.  Well, peanuts are off limits with Whole30… so I remade it.  Then found out so are cranberries and had to remake it again.

But these adjustments were not too difficult… the hardest part of Whole30  for me was drinking water.

See, I drink a lot of water… but none of it tastes like water.  Usually I add some raspberry flavor that has glucosamine and some lemon flavor packed with B-Vitamins. Not only does this “raspberry lemonade” taste awesome, it is a great recovery drink because of the supplements packed into it. Another way I will drink water is with an electrolyte infused lemon lime flavor.

In both of these drinks, I use the amount of flavor you are supposed to put in 16 ounces to make 32oz, just a hint of flavor to keep the water interesting.

The problem is that all of these flavor enhancers include sweeteners of some kind… so they are completely off limits on Whole30.  I’m going to be honest, y’all, I was pretty dehydrated the first few days of Whole30.

So, I started making unsweet tea.  I would brew hot tea and then pour it over ice and drink that all day.  Since I am not one who consumes much caffeine, around the 3rd day of this I started getting pretty bad headaches.  I switched to green tea, since it is lower in caffeine (I thought it was caffeine free but turns out I was wrong).

Then I was at PT for my second session and was talking about some specific pain I was having with the treatment.  Her response was, “That kind of pain usually means you are dehydrated.  How much water are you drinking?”  I told her I drink a lot of unsweetened tea … and she told me that doesn’t count.

Ok, so back to just plain water. I made it through a day of drinking about 100 oz of plain water and the PT pain went away.  But the next day I couldn’t get down 50 oz (water is just so boring!) and I knew I needed to do something different.

So I changed the rules.

If you are a Whole30 purist, you can judge me or hate on me or whatever you want to do but I figured that Whole30 wasn’t about a cleanse for me; it was about reestablishing healthy habits for the year.  As I thought about it, I decided that drinking flavored water was better for me than being dehydrated.

Funny thing, though.  Since there is basically no sugar in my diet (outside of fruit), the previous ratios of flavor to water tasted way too strong for me.  The friends who teased me before about watering down my flavor would laugh harder today, since I basically doubled the ratio.

While Whole30 discourages fruit juice (since it’s so high in sugar) and bread (duh), it does allow for one exception which is taking Communion at church.  This morning we took Communion for the first time since I started Whole30 and, honestly, I didn’t think much of it.

The music started and I got in line, picked up my bite of bread and little cup of grape juice and headed to my seat.  As is my custom, I took a few seconds to thank Christ for the sacrifice He made for me on the cross and how his broken body freed me from my sin.  Then I put the bread in my mouth… and bursts of dopamine exploded in my head.  What is this phenomenal taste? (Y’all it was just basic French bread.)

I was distracted for a moment as I finished the bread then returned to prayer.  I took a moment to thank God for the graces that He provided with his resurrection, listing off a few breakthroughs I have experienced personally this year.  Then I took the cup to my lips and put that swallow of grape juice in my mouth.  Y’all I was delirious.  It was so sweet, I thought I was drinking sugar water.

I couldn’t understand, I have taken communion many times before. The music continued and I sat in stunned silence as the dopamine started to clear from my head. Then it hit me.

Without noticing it, those little bites of cookie or sips of coco are slowly deadening our flavor receptors to what is considered sweet. (Or, in my case, those protein bars, protein shakes, and strawberry lemonade recovery drinks… all also loaded with sweetness.) With this period (now 19 days) of cutting out all the “sweetness” in my life, just a teaspoon of grape juice tasted like pure sugar.

As I pondered this, I realized it’s a lot like the other fast I am doing in parallel.  During my Whole30, I decided to cut out YouTube and Facebook* because they were consuming so much of my time. (I have been on track with Facebook but missed a few times on YouTube.)

Facebook had become a problem because it was becoming my identity.  I would post a blog and then check 100 times to see if you liked, commented, or shared my post.  I felt this 30 days would be a chance to re-center my identity on who I really am and remember that my hunger for affirmation will never be satisfied by anyone else.

YouTube was just becoming a time sink.  I would log in because I had a moment of pause waiting for a call, sitting at a stoplight, or visiting the restroom.  But then one video would end and recommend the next and the next… and before you know it I had been on there for hours.

In my post yesterday, I talked about rediscovering a hunger for reading and I do believe that I was right to say that it started with just doing it anyway. But after this morning’s experience I think there is another layer.

Removing these cheap substitutes made books “taste” better.

When I read the Greatest Miracle in the World, instead of watching the story of someone breaking down a scene in Star Wars, I read the story of the Ragpicker, Simon Potter, who rescues Og from his own living hell.  And instead of finding affirmation of my value in your Facebook comments, I am reminded of my value in the Memo from God to me at the end of that awesome book.  Having starved off the false substitutes, the empowerment from that book left me hungry for more.

So I scoured my shelves for the sequel, The Return of the Ragpicker and got through it in a day. I looked for, and couldn’t find, The Choice, so I jumped into The Greatest Salesman in the World, and today I pulled 7 more books from my shelf to feed this new hunger.

All these books cover a variety of topics but they share a common theme: you are a miracle created with a purpose and destined to do great things.  They are all drenched with the affirmation that I hunger for and rather than affirming me for a behavior or action they remind me of the treasure buried within in me just because I am a human being.

In twelve days, I will no longer be avoiding Facebook, but I hope to carry with me this re-centered perspective.  I hope that your comments on Facebook can encourage me without being necessary for my emotional survival.

In twelve days, I will no longer be eliminating YouTube. And let’s be real, there is some fun stuff on YouTube. But my hope is that I can learn to moderate my time there because, honestly, I have too much life to live to be burning hours and days looking at a screen watching other people live their lives.

So, here’s my question for you: what blessing in your life has lost it’s sweetness?

Has nature lost its wonder?
Has fruit ceased to be sweet?
Do books feel slow and dull?
Has “quiet time” with the Lord become a chore?

What “artificial sweetener” in your life has deadened you to the real thing?
And are you brave enough to eliminate it for 30 days?

I think you will be glad you did.

*Just because some of you will ask… I post blogs to Facebook from WordPress and I text Facebook from my cell phone to post updates but I am not logging in so I can’t see your responses till January 27th.