Lifestyle

Why You Shouldn’t Rush to Slow Down or Obsess Over Self Care

I recently took a bath for the first time in the small bathroom of an apartment where I’ve lived for five years. That’s a long time to neglect such a simple pleasure.

As I lay there, all warm, rubbery and relaxed, I started thinking about why. Practically, there was no stopper for the tub. I always showered. The fix could not have been easier. I bought one for six dollars at the hardware store down the street, while there for other things. That night, at long last, I took the plunge.

A friend I’ve known for years gets up early enough to take a bath every morning before work. This has always seemed fantastically indulgent and, frankly, a waste of time.

recently took a bath for the first time in the small bathroom of an apartment where I’ve lived for five years. That’s a long time to neglect such a simple pleasure.

As I lay there, all warm, rubbery and relaxed, I started thinking about why. Practically, there was no stopper for the tub. I always showered. The fix could not have been easier. I bought one for six dollars at the hardware store down the street, while there for other things. That night, at long last, I took the plunge.

A friend I’ve known for years gets up early enough to take a bath every morning before work. This has always seemed fantastically indulgent and, frankly, a waste of time.

With my body submerged in water the other night, I also reflected on her ritual. Maybe it really could be a pleasant way to start the day. Certainly more bucolic than running around the apartment, mug of coffee in hand, using caffeine as fuel to get out the door or open my laptop and get to work with ever-quicker speed.

At the least, filling a bathtub requires a modicum of patience. And being enveloped by water has a way of making you present. It grounds you — no pun intended.

How Much Fighting in a Relationship Is Too Much?

In “Tell Me Why,” she tells the story of a boyfriend with a mean streak. “You took a swing, I took it hard/And down here from the ground I see who you are,” she sings. In “Blank Space,” she addresses a revolving door of unhealthy relationships. “Boys only want love if it’s torture,” she counsels her listeners. And in “Mine,” a song that’s about an apparently good relationship, she discusses the fights she and her boyfriend would have: “And I remember that fight, 2:30 a.m… I ran out, crying, and you followed me out into the street.”

Swift’s predilection for conflict is not especially unusual. Her songs represent the normalcy with which conflict, sometimes involving yelling, angrily pointing, or throwing things, is depicted in American culture. But unfortunately, frequent occurrences of fighting — with some significant exceptions — are generally detrimental to not only the strength of a relationship but also the physical and mental health of the individuals involved, including children who might witness or be aware of the conflict.

The fundamental difference between constructive and destructive conflict is relatively simple: In constructive conflict, the fight ultimately needs to be a means to an end. In other words, the arguing couple should reach some sort of resolution to make it all worth it. And for most couples, the fights shouldn’t be too heated, because yelling, throwing things, and other intense manifestations of anger are harder to recover from.

2019 study found that couples tend to fight about four things: children, money, intimacy, and in-laws—all relatively significant factors in a couple’s life together. More than the subject matter of the conflict, though, the nature of it predicts future relationship happiness or misery and potential dissolution. “Happy couples tend to take a solution-oriented approach to conflict, and this is clear even in the topics that they choose to discuss,” says Amy Rauer, the study’s author and an associate professor of child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the study’s press release.

Fighting with the intent to resolve the conflict, rather than to “win” or get your own way, is a crucial aspect of healthy fighting and, thus, a healthy relationship. A 2000 study from John Gottman, the pioneering relationships psychologist, discovered that fighting in a high-energy “attack-defend” mode, characterized by rage, belligerence, and contempt, predicted divorce early on in the relationship. Withdrawing tactics, meanwhile, are better—for a while. Couples whose arguments included behaviors like stonewalling, disgust, and sadness were more likely to divorce later on.

According to Terri Orbuch, professor of sociology at Oakland University in Michigan and author of the book Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, some conflict in a relationship is normal. It’s how couples manage it that makes the difference.

“Sometimes conflict can help people resolve their relationship problems, and when it does, it can improve the well-being of both people in the relationship and even others in their lives,” Baker says. “Yet if conflict is chronic, isn’t resolving relationship problems, and is severe (e.g., verbal or physical aggression), it can have profound negative consequences for both people and others.”

Conflict is a way for a couple to work through issues and come out the other side a little better, stronger, and clearer than before. It’s a lesson that Taylor Swift, apparently, has finally learned: Pre-Lover, she threw cellphones at boyfriends and viewed relationships as Red. Now, as she sings in “Daylight,” love’s golden.

What to Do When You Hit Rock Bottom

Making a list of failures is never an easy task. I mean, who wants to look at what went wrong? Who wants to recall the low points? Who wants to revisit the times you tumbled down the cliff and landed at the bottom, broken and bleeding?

I do.

Not because I’m a psychopathic sadist, but because I want to help. Both myself and others.

I believe that those of us who have hit rock bottom provide a valuable viewpoint. I believe failure grants a vision as meaningful as success. In fact, I contend that it is failure — and how we deal with it — that best defines us.

I’ve got a lotta failure to offer. In fact, when I make a list, its length overwhelmed me. It doesn’t look pretty. (And it’s waaaaay longer than the one I merely started above.)

The problem is: I’m not just a list of failures.

Life’s not linear. Nor is our path through it. Rather, this journey is jam-packed with detours, switchbacks, and dead ends.

Likewise, our faults and failings are not ends in themselves (if we survive them). Our failures and losses do not have to define us. Taken in stride, we can, in fact, accept them into our meandering, crazy path, reworking our original map to give them a place in our lives.

Trauma and failure touch us, move us, and change us. They force us off the highway and into the weeds. They even throw us off the ledge to deep, dark places where we struggle to even fumble back.

Perhaps it’s better to use an analogy. Writers write. Novices tend to write and think the first draft is the finest. More masterful writers know this: that first draft is never the best one. It need time, critique, and rewriting. Quality writing is always revised. Great writing always adds and subtracts, rewords and reenvisions. Balance is the trick, tempered by experience.

So to, our failures. We can dismiss them entirely or focus on them exclusively. Better to include them in the manuscript, to let their impact be continually read, revised, and rewritten. Revisiting them during our ever-changing story allows us to alter our perspective, point of view, and plot. Our dark times become part of the story, not the beginning, not the end, and not the focal point. As narrators of our own lives, we live the story, yes, but we also retain the editorial power to continually review and revise it.

Broadway Critics Have a Problem With Teen Musicals. How Do We Solve It?

Running Is More Than A Hobby — It’s A Friendship

I’ve been running regularly for almost 18 years. Before today, believe it or not, I’ve never actually reflected on this amount of time. It honestly took me by surprise. I began to think: what’s kept me interested all this time? Through injury and setback, trial and tribulation, success and accomplishment, why have I continued to run? How do I even classify what running is to me?

It’s not a hobby — I’ve had many hobbies throughout my life, but most have been relatively short-lived. I play classical piano, but intermittently. I played video games for several years, but haven’t been interested in quite some time. I even tried collecting quarters from all 50 states when I was younger to kick off a coin collection.

I wouldn’t say it’s a passion either — I’m passionate about running, but I’m also passionate about watching basketball. About playing golf. Movies. Mobile apps. Michael Jordan sneakers. Chipotle.

Running goes deeper than any of that.

Like many, I got my start during high school on the cross country team. I didn’t make the freshman golf squad and my dad told me I needed an after school commitment. He didn’t care what it was, but it had to be a school-sanctioned sport or activity. I figured well this girl I have a crush on is going out for cross country, so I’ll do that. I was 15, and that’s pretty much what governed my behavior back then. #TeenAngst

I didn’t take to running right away. I was pretty decent at it right off the bat since I have the body type for distance running, but mentally my head wasn’t in the game. Even though I progressed throughout high school and actually became pretty good, I never gave it 100%. But again, I was in high school, and let’s just say I was “easily distracted” when I was a kid. I didn’t have the maturity to commit to anything.

For the next several years, throughout college and my early 20s, I ran regularly but without purpose or intelligence. I had no real plan or training schedule and didn’t take care of my body the way I should have. Stretching and recovery days? Yeah no. I would run half marathons on a whim and then go out to the bar. Every run would be balls to the wall. Turn the music up.

Everything changed when I was 24. I developed some particularly insidious anxiety which forced me to change basically everything about my life over the next several years. Where I lived, where I worked, what I did for fun, who I spent my time with. I stopped drinking to excess. I stopped staying up late. My social life was anemic for years.

But – I kept running. Although this time, I began to run more intelligently. Not every run had to be an all-out fight. Recovery runs and pre-race shake out runs had just as much of a purpose as a hard-fought tempo run or interval session.

I began to run with meaningful intent —After a hard, frustrating day at work an easy 4-miler can be better than any beer or drug. Making big life decisions became easier after I would sort them out during a run.

I began to run with a specific goal in mind: pumping myself up, winding myself down, working through a problem and everything in-between.

I discovered the beauty and serenity that is trail running. The soft dirt under foot, the undulating terrain, the sounds of the forest, the sunlight through the trees. It’s on the trails that I discovered how truly spiritual running can be. This is where I’d like my running focus to be long-term. Not to mention the trail running community is one of the best communities of people I’ve ever witnessed.

I started taking my headphones out more and more. Turns out that running without heavy metal or EDM music pounding in my ears can be an extremely cathartic experience. This would also lead me to discovering the awesomeness that is the podcast – I regularly listen to podcasts on long runs now.

Running is more than just a passion, a hobby, or something constructive to keep my physical mind and body healthy as I age. It’s one of my best friends and one of the most important relationships I have.

Like most, I see friendship as a two-way street. I give a little, I take a little, they give a little, they take a little. The give and take distribution is not always equal, but there is a balance that is struck — a balance that makes the friendship worthwhile for both parties involved.

And like all friendships, sometimes devils like selfishness, jealousy and arrogance make an appearance. I’m certainly guilty of entertaining these devils at one time or another, plus others. We don’t intend to hurt our friends, but we do from time to time. We’re only human.

I’ve taken from running, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve taken shortcuts, taken the easy road, taken advantage of the god-given ability I was born with.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Yourself

Deadlines. New demands. Rising expectations. If you’re like most accomplished professionals, you spend most of your day fighting off requests from other people. They want your time, energy, and expertise. Since you’re a loyal team player, you’re happy to give it. Perhaps you’re also the last one to leave at the end of the day and the first to take on new responsibilities.

While caring about your work is great, giving too much can deplete you quickly. As a result of chronic people pleasing, you may feel overwhelmed, overworked, and unappreciated for all of the extra support you provide, which can lead to burnout and resentment.

How do you break the people pleasing cycle? Here’s four steps to try:

1. Name your underlying fear

Typically, people pleasing is the flip side of tremendous strengths like sensitivity and commitment. Your intentions to help may come from a good place, but it’s important to own up to the fears driving your “need to please”. Do you fear rejection? Failure? Simply putting a label on your fears can reduce their power over you.

2. Get radically honest about what people pleasing is costing you

Ask yourself if the payoff of always being the likable or dependable one around the office is worth the consequences. Agreeing to every request can not only wear you out, but also undermine your personal integrity. You may find yourself carrying out ideas you don’t truly believe in. Conversely, the ability to assert yourself appropriately, take pride in your ideas, and prioritize your own needs can help you excel in your career.

3. Teach others how to treat you

If you don’t value your time, no one else will. Instead of making yourself overly accessible, put boundaries in place. Push back against unreasonable requests. Learn to say no.

Privately rehearse responses like, “I have a big deadline approaching, and I’m completely focused on that. Try asking Angela for help,” or, “I can work on that after I complete this report.” You may also want to consider establishing timeframes. For example, “I am free to help on Tuesday from 10 AM until 12 PM.”

Practicing phrases like these will make turning down a project feel much more natural, which can alleviate concerns about damaging your relationships.

4. Do the opposite

If jumping in to help is your default response (even when it’s counterproductive or self-sabotaging), borrow a psychological technique known as “opposite action”. “Opposite action” is exactly what it sounds like. It involves redirecting unhelpful responses to healthier behavior by doing the opposite of what our emotions tells us to do. If your urge is to step in and mediate every problem, do the opposite by coaching people to take ownership of solutions themselves, for instance.

Striving to make everyone happy all of the time is not sustainable. It might be possible in the short term, but ultimately, the only person you have complete control over is you. Make yourself your first priority, and you’ll be happier in your work and a better professional for it.

Let Go of Perfectionism and Find More Peace

In school, perfectionism is often rewarded, but in life, it can hold you back.

Perfectionism served me well in the 1980’s American public school system. I checked and double-checked my answers on tests so I didn’t make careless errors. I turned in highly polished work and received bonus points for good presentation (usually by adding a colorful picture). My handwriting was neat and I liked working alone to solve problems with straightforward answers.

Then, in high school, I started precalculus and took a baseline math assessment. I bombed the test. I didn’t have the pre-requisite skills for the class. Somehow I’d managed to do well on tests in the foundational classes, but I’d forgotten the equations I’d memorized and lacked a true understanding of the concepts.

Failure is not a weakness. It shows real strength of character to learn from your mistakes and keep going. Don’t give up. Mistakes only show us what we still need to learn.

You will have to move beyond many things you’ve learned in school. There is not always one right answer to a problem. There are many directions you can go. Learn to view these choices as exciting. Get clear on your values and they will lead you the right way.

Teaching yourself to adopt a growth mindset will help you rebound when times get tough. If you believe your brain can grow, you behave differently.

Recent advances in neuroscience have shown us that the brain is far more malleable than we ever knew. Research on brain plasticity has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses.”

This is good news. It shows that traits like intelligence are not fixed. We can improve and change with practice.

What Next?

Now that we know perfectionism is holding us back and we have some strategies to help us let go of it, what next?

Get out there and enjoy your swim. You don’t need a perfect beach body to have fun in the water. Submit your story to a writing competition or share it in a critique group. You can’t improve it by keeping it hidden in a folder on your laptop. Pitch a project idea to your boss. What have you got to lose? If he/she doesn’t like it, figure out why and improve it. Or, come up with another idea.

I’d love to see what you do now that you’ve cast off your perfectionist anchor.

Tomorrow is Often the Busiest Day of the Week

Here’s a puzzle: You’re sociable. You’re fun to be around. You’ve got self-deprecating stories and an archive of jokes that lighten the mood of any group. You’re spontaneous. You’re good-looking — so much so, in fact, that a night out often turns into a semi-romantic escapade. You’re genuinely interested in other people, and you always listen intently to their problems and offer advice.

In short: You’re friendly.

Yet, if you choked on your dinner this week, there wouldn’t be a need for a casket. By the time someone finally bothered to check up on you, you’d be decomposed and intermingled with the perennial filth and dust in your apartment.

In short: You have no real friends.

That’s the conundrum I’ve wrestled with for most of my life, from childhood to adolescence to my early twenties. I’ve provided great company, yet my interactions with my fellow classmates and co-workers have never gone beyond frivolous exchanges. I am not “one of the guys,” and I’m often only invited to large, impersonal parties — never to intimate gatherings of a few. For the life of me, for years, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

Opening ourselves up to others is just another way to make our conversational partners feel appreciated. In trusting them with our personal matters, we’re implicitly asserting their importance — their trustworthy character and valuable opinions. “Wow, he unleashed such a cascade of candor towards me. I must be quite a sage, indeed,” they think. Our companion’s subconscious pats itself on the back. Madeline Miller put it better than I ever could: “He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

If we die a little every time a friend succeeds, as the writer Gore Vidal observed, why not give our friends a bit of life by telling them about our failures? I was rewarded for it, and I bet you will be, too.

 

You might worry that by making a habit of broadcasting the personal issues that pester you, you’ll come across as needy and self-centered. Indeed, Nelson’s advice sounds like doing the thing most relationship gurus admonish against: focusing too much on ourselves. For example, one of the central tenets of the classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is that we ought to become good listeners and talk in terms of the other person’s interest, not in terms of our own. But this is the same sentiment Nelson offers, just explained in a different way.

Encouraging others to talk about themselves, about the things they treasure the most, makes them feel valued and important. We’ll be held in high esteem as the rare individual who allows others to indulge in themselves uninterrupted. As the psychologist John Dewey put it: “the deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.”

Opening ourselves up to others is just another way to make our conversational partners feel appreciated. In trusting them with our personal matters, we’re implicitly asserting their importance — their trustworthy character and valuable opinions. “Wow, he unleashed such a cascade of candor towards me. I must be quite a sage, indeed,” they think. Our companion’s subconscious pats itself on the back. Madeline Miller put it better than I ever could: “He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

If we die a little every time a friend succeeds, as the writer Gore Vidal observed, why not give our friends a bit of life by telling them about our failures? I was rewarded for it, and I bet you will be, too.

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