Disruption

“A Rut is a rhythm that doesn’t take you where you want to go.”
– Matt G.

Life is full of routine, those decisions that you make back-to-back enough that they become automatic. This is what allows you to move from the new driver who is 100% focused on just staying in your lane to the confident driver you are today that eats a sandwich with one hand, texts with the other, and drives with her knee while yelling at the kids in the back seat.

What changed? Staying in your lane became natural; it became automatic.

Similarly, if you have ever heard “it’s like riding a bike” the statement is based on understanding rhythm. When I first learned to ride a bike, it was on a bike with training wheels. Just learning to peddle and steer at the same time was challenging.

Dad said the training wheels would come off when I could make a lap around the block without them touching the ground and that seemed like an impossibility. But Matt had his off so I was determined and I kept at it until peddling the bike became a rhythm and the training wheels came off.

Rhythm makes life manageable by creating efficiency and is the reason that you can infinitely add “one more thing” to your schedule. Imagine how difficult life would be if you had to remind yourself “right, left, right, left” while you were walking.

These automatic reactions and thought patterns are vital to our survival but they are not always in our best interest. I wrote yesterday about some dangerous thought patterns that I had developed.  Let’s look at one more closely that had terrible consequences for me this week.

In the pursuit of perfection, I have developed zero tolerance for failure. When I make a mistake, I react with feelings of guilt and shame. My automatic response is to hide, often in YouTube or food. This behavior is another mistake, strengthening feelings of guilt and shame, and sending me back for another video or one more cookie.

Once caught in this cycle, the off-ramp is difficult to find. YouTube doesn’t make it easy either, recommending 5 other videos that would go great with the one you are watching and defaulting to “auto play” so it will launch a video if you don’t make a choice.

Feelings of guilt and shame after watching a YouTube video, and the resulting click on another video, has become so engrained in me that even when the first video wasn’t really a mistake, the cycle begins.

Here’s how that played out on Friday. My mentor recommended a video about a story of overcoming. After wrapping up work for the day and standing up to leave, I realized I hadn’t watched the video yet.  I hopped over to YouTube, found it, and watched. Nothing wrong here; just following guidance of my mentor.

But then I clicked on the YouTube symbol at the top of the page. It was such an automatic response that I barely thought in the process.  I remember a brief moment of pause as I said, “what are you doing?” but by then I was already clicked onto one of the two channels I tend to follow.

Since it had been a few weeks since my last YouTube experience, there were some new videos on both channels. I am just going to catch up on my two shows while I am here. I answered myself. Then I will be out of here in 30 minutes.

Except I wasn’t out of there in 30 minutes. I wasn’t out of there until 3:30am and my eyes were literally burning as I made the 5 minute drive home.

What happened?

My automatic reaction to watching a YouTube video is to watch another.  This has been reinforced by shame and guilt so many times that I don’t even need the shame and guilt anymore to take the action.

The response of my mentor the next morning was to send me another video to watch (this time telling me to text him after) and I was confused. Isn’t YouTube the problem? No. It’s not YouTube that is the problem, it’s the automatic reaction of “one more” that is the problem.

By having me watch a video and then close YouTube immediately after, my mentor is helping me re-wire my reaction. The video was a recommendation from him, so there is no guilt or shame for watching it, and the reaction of closing it to apply what I learned is a healthy response to an inspirational story.

Is this going to be the medication he prescribes ever day? I doubt it but perhaps. The point is that it’s important to recognize the triggers that lead to our harmful behaviors and then rewire those reactions.

The first step is to recognize that those automatic reactions exist. That is where Disruption comes in to play.

About two months ago Donovan told me that I need to quit everything. I laughed it off; I’m not a quitter. The third time he brought it up, I started asking questions. Donovan explained that the ruts in my brain were really wrecking me and I needed to “Disrupt” my routines. “Question everything” he went on to say, “from how you put on your pants, to what activities you do.”

While I didn’t go out and quit everything that day, I tried starting with minor changes. I parked in a different place at the gym a few times and tried changing up what I wear to work. Within a few weeks, these minor changes were all back to the way they had been before. But the seeds of disruption had been sown and looking back two months later, much of my life is not the same.

Yesterday I posted about a shift in my work schedule and that 30-minute shift has changing my morning routine and fitness regimen.

After months of prayer and planning, I am ready to make big moves in ministry.  August 27th, I will teach my last Sunday school class and I have begun to move into working with the women of our church. Instead of an hour commitment Sunday mornings, I’m now planning our next women’s retreat, hosting quarterly brunches, teaching bible studies, and constantly thinking about ways to connect, develop, and engage the women of our church.

Meanwhile, I started looking at everything I do and asking “should I be doing this?” I’ve hired awesome women to clean my house and prep my meals. This has freed both time and mental energy to focus more on what I am called to do with my life and less about the day-to-day tasks that need to be addressed.

More disruption was thrust upon me when my community group came to an end because our leaders are moving to Morocco. This was hard, as it felt like losing a second family this year, and now it means finding a new community group… again.

My chief purpose in life is to Encourage, Empower, and Equip people worldwide to Break Free of Strongholds and Pursue their Dreams. This means that I need to write more and waste time less. I’m disrupting my schedule as much as I can to make that happen, with the goal of 1-2 blogs a week. (That’s a goal, not a promise…)

I’m starting a new Discipleship relationship that will provide the opportunity to address some key weaknesses in myself. I picked up a new Bible study yesterday and started it this morning. I changed the books I am reading and adjusted the people that I seek out to engage in conversation.

And looking back to two months later, I have disrupted everything.

Disruption is uncomfortable. I pay someone to cook for me but still find myself cooking most weekends. I’m savoring the last few weeks with my kiddos on Sunday mornings and I am dragging my feet about finding a new community group. I look at my new schedule and commitments wondering how it will all get done.

The chief value of disruption is reengagement. It’s vital to switching off the autopilot in your brain that is stringing your decisions together without consulting you. Disruption is how you identify your autothoughts so that you can begin to attack them.

Your homework this week is to disrupt yourself. Walk backwards for 30 minutes (or even 3). Change how you dress for work or wear a suit to class (unless it’s a gym class…). Ask “Why?” about everything, and I mean everything.

Why do these numbers matter?
Why am in this club?
Why is this my ministry?
Why can’t I ask for help?
Why do I spend time with this person?
Why do I care what they have/do/accomplish?
Why did I say that?
Why isn’t crying ok?
Why am I wearing this?
Why do I feel responsible for them?

If you don’t know the answer, or don’t like the answer, then it may be an autothought that needs to be adjusted. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time so for now just write them down.

I’ve heard my whole life that I need to “take thoughts captive” and take responsibility for my life.  For the first time ever, I have been taught how to take thoughts captive and that’s what I want to teach to you … if you’re brave enough to come along.

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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?

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.