Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oh, Mama!

Okay, so, I'm feeling pretty strongly about the next chapter in this blog's life, but I have an excellent post from my mom I want to share with you first. I'll let you contemplate it for a few days before I start Chapter 2. So, expect something around the end of the week.

My mom is one of the true heroes in my life. She is not perfect, but she's humble enough to recognize her weaknesses and tries to strengthen them. And she doesn't hide any of that from me. I'm so grateful for that.

Because, to me, she's pretty darn close to perfection and I want to be like her. So, knowing that she has shortcomings makes it easier for me to accept my own shortcomings. And knowing that she's working on them and how she's working on them makes it easier for me to work on mine. Partly because we are a whole heap alike.

Anyway, the following is an experience she offered to share with all of us about something she recently learned. I do try to be a positive influence in her life, but I am not the daughter she references here.

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, after having gone to bed late, anxious about all the things on my “To Do” list. I knew that I had until 6 p.m. to get it all done, because that was when we were leaving for the airport. Our 3-½ week trip was coming to an end and several of the things I’d wanted to do were not yet done. It didn’t matter that most of the list had been done, or that the most important things had been done. No, the unfinished list seemed to dominate my thoughts and feelings and I was driven to complete it.

I usually start my day writing in my journal and studying the scriptures, which helps me lay a solid foundation for the rest of the day. But this morning I decided to postpone those activities until I was on the airplane and could relax. I also skipped my morning exercise routine, which I had neglected most of this trip. After a quick shower and breakfast, I reviewed my list and prioritized every item. Then I began, with my focus on being able to cross off as many items on the list as possible.

It was still very early in the morning so no one called or came by to interrupt, and since my husband was trying to put in the last of his 40-hour workweek, I made steady progress. Every so often I’d glance at the clock to see how I was doing. At first it seemed like I was on top of things and might be able to complete my list. But around noon I realized that was not going to happen. I began mentally crossing things off so that I could cope with the anxiety that had been building since before I woke up. I decided that I didn’t have time to eat lunch and I was too preoccupied to be hungry anyway.

Around 2 p.m., I received a phone call. It was from our youngest daughter, who’d been away the first two weeks of

our trip and who we hadn’t been able to spend as much time with as we wanted. Spending time with her and her husband was also on my list, but the only way I could see to make that happen was if they drove over and helped me with my list, or followed me while I cleaned the house. To my amazement, she asked if I could go to a late lunch with them. I explained to her that I’d gotten up extra early so that I could spend time with her but that my efforts had been inadequate because I still had too much to do and a deadline of four hours. For a few minutes I tried to get her to see things from my point of view, and she tried to help me see things from her perspective. We hung up without finding a way to spend time together. I wasn’t happy with the situation and I knew she wasn’t either, but there seemed to be no solution that could please both of us.

Thankfully, my daughter called back a few minutes later. Her first words were something like, “Mom, I want you to try an experiment.” Those few words, spoken very caringly, triggered a response big enough to allow me to turn off all my self-imposed thoughts and listen. As I listened, I remembered a university course on rational thinking that I’d completed about a year ago. In it I had learned that emotions are not automatic and that we human beings can control our emotions by controlling our thoughts. I knew that I had power over what I was thinking and feeling and I

knew right then that I could change if I decided to.

My daughter asked me to consider what would be the worst thing that would happen if I didn’t complete all the items on my list. So I asked myself what would happen if I didn’t clean the bathrooms, mop the floor, and vacuum the carpets? What would happen if I didn’t do all the other things on my list? I realized that it probably wouldn't make a difference to anyone but me. And then I asked myself how I would feel later if I chose to make my spending time with my daughter a higher priority than completing the things on my list? The answer was obvious, I would get over any guilt from not finishing my list in no time, and I would regret not spending time with my daughter for a long, long time.

My anxiety was almost gone, replaced with a feeling of peace. With my vision cleared, I realized that for some reason cleaning the house and completing my list had seemed much more necessary and important than it actually was; I hadn’t even considered not doing it. I looked at my list again with a new perspective and eliminated almost every unfinished task. The remaining items on my list were organized, delegated, or completed. Instead of focusing on the items I'd crossed off my list, I thought about what I had accomplished and felt grateful.

Here is the Reader’s Digest version of what I learned and applied from the course I took:

  1. There is not a cause-and-effect relationship between our emotions and external facts, events, or situations. Our thinking controls our emotions as well as the intensity of those emotions.

  1. The best way to feel better is to learn to think better. If we have negative, undesirable emotions, it is because we have practiced thinking the thoughts which produce them. (This is NOT a desirable habit!)

  1. Habits (such as emotional responses) are learned behaviors. Anything that is learned can be unlearned. We can change our habits. We can learn to think differently and create the emotions that we want to have.

How fortuitous that my daughter helped me rethink things while there was time for me to do things differently. I changed how I was thinking, which changed how I was feeling, which changed how I spent the last four hours of our trip. Needless to say, the house cleaning was reduced to the essentials and was finished before my daughter and her husband picked me up and took me to a fantastic Mexican restaurant for an enjoyable lunch and some great bonding time. And I haven’t had a single regret about the choices I made that day.

Since I typed this up last week, I've thought more about it. What happened that day was a relatively simple experience. Many other situations are of a much greater magnitude and much more challenging. Some of life's events and circumstances are extremely hard to deal with and have far greater consequences. We all know this. We also know that each of us will have a variety of experiences in our lives which provide opportunities to learn to manage our thoughts and thus our emotions. And we know that we won't always make the best choices, so we need to remember that at any point we have the ability to change our thoughts. Changing our thinking enables us to create more desirable emotions. Sometimes this process takes time. We have to keep at it with faith and hope. It is empowering. Life is a series of events that have the potential to help us learn and progress and become who we need to be.

Have you had a similar experience? Were you the one feeling the stress or other counter-productive emotion
(like me) or the one who helped (like my daughter)?
How did you change what you were thinking? How did that change your emotions?
Do you agree with the 3 principles I learned in my course? What would you add ?

Thanks, Mom! I love you!


Cheryl said...

This has happened to me a lot. Usually HH is the one to try to help me see the light and relax. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But when I do listen to him, it always feels better.

gus said...

It's such a simple concept, but so difficult to implement.

You can't chose most of the things that happen to you, but you can chose how to respond to them.

I love your mom's lesson. It's one I've been working on for a very long time. It's good to be reminded because it's often the times you need this attitude adjustment the most that we forget.

Amy said...

wow. that sounds like me today. I should've read this blog sooner! Anyway, I'll try to incorporate this advice and maybe tomorrow will be better than today. Making memories is much more important than finishing lists. Most of the time anyway. Thanks Mom.

Melanie said...

This reminds me of a poem that I've loved. It helps me keep things in perspective...

Oh, I've grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue

Dishes are waiting and bills are past due

The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew
and out in the yard there's a hullabaloo
but I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren't her eyes the most wonderful hue?

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
for children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

Thanks for the post, Mom. I love you. Thanks Cheryl for your blog too.

Belkycita said...

I have been trying to read this post since it was posted!!
But... I learned from mom well I guess. I have been limiting my time on the computer to check twice a day on my email and spending the rest of my lovely time falling in love over and over again with my two sweet girls.
Thanks Mom, Cheryl and Meg for wonderful lessons :-)