Monday, November 14, 2011

Emergency! Time Pressure!!!!!

Deepak Chopra wrote, “In medicine we realize that people who don’t have enough time are probably going to develop health problems. The discovery of Type A behavior, for example, revealed that heart attacks were linked to a sense that there’s never enough time. …” Ageless Body, Timeless Mind.

It scared me when I read that. I totally identify. I was not surprised to read Deepak’s words, “It’s no accident that the word deadline contains the word dead.” When I wrote grants for a living, I would have to go directly to bed after meeting a deadline and stay there for a couple of days because I was simply done. After 15 years of that, I changed careers and never looked back because I felt like the deadlines would send me to an early grave. I don’t even like to hear the word grant at this point.

Something deep in my soul knows that the chronic rush so many of us feel is unnatural. We know it's not good for us, and it doesn't feel good while it's happening. Whether you work out in the world or work at home, there is this underlying, nagging feeling of what comes next, and will I have enough time, and I don't want to be late, and when am I going to do x and y?

So what’s the solution? I thought about summarizing Deepak’s recommendations, but they are a bit too metaphysical for simply trying to make it through the day. His website, however, is worth the visit:
Linear time is simply what we’re stuck with (on this plane anyway). We only have so much leeway. So this weekend, I tried to come up with ways to save my heart—which has a tendency to race and rebel when under emotional time pressure. Since I want my heart to last for as long as I want it to last (a very, very long time), these are my intentions:
q       Make a daily list with the most important things at the top, and try very hard to fit in the things that really matter. So today at 4 p.m., I simply stopped what I was doing, locked the classroom, and drove to the track to get in my three-mile walk. I refused to think about the condition of my desk because that would have taken me out of the present moment. The condition of the desk will be in my present moment tomorrow when I walk into the room.
q      Prepare only two items for weekday dinners (plus I will always have a chopped head of lettuce, so it can be a third thing if desired.) I have this ridiculous, early twentieth-century habit of sometimes making separate dinner items for each of us—e.g., pork for my husband, chicken for me. I lost that habit today when I realized I must suffer from some form of mental illness. Two dishes—max.
q       Keep centered in the face of chaos. If you are exposed to people-- any people, there will be stress (kids, wives, partners, husbands, parents, family members, coworkers, etc.). People will always have their own agendas, and sometimes will have agendas for us. Everybody basically wants what they want. Sooooo, I’m going to remember my agenda and think long and hard before I respond to the desires of others. Deepak says to have an inner smile and take three deep breaths before responding (something to that effect). Doesn’t that seem like a wonderful way to handle people who are trying to steal our time? Because if we aren't mindful, we will run out of time without having done anything that we want to do.

I suggest that you come up with your own plan. To coerce you into doing so, I’ll leave you with a final quote from Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. “When heart patients are given demanding tasks under a deadline, a significant number grow so agitated that their heart muscles actually suffer ischemic or “silent” heart attacks (damage without any sensation or pain).”   Jeeze!!!!!!!!!  (But to make you a bit optimistic... I've read that we can heal practically everything-- even the most caustic and devastating illnesses with the proper attention and focus.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The perfect is the enemy of the good

I become a bit shy (such a childish word) when I’m sort of on the spot—like when I’m in front of a group participating in some forum that is not my strong suit. In such a case, I want the opportunity to really rehearse and over-prepare. Otherwise I tend to feel inadequate, and after the situation is over, I beat myself up a bit. I will remember every stammer, every omission, or any foolish statement. I’ll relive the discomfort and feel lousy.
Today I was about to go down that road after participating in a workshop. I wished I’d had more time to think about my role in it. But maybe because I’m blogging about reducing stress, I was instantly aware of the truth of the matter. My self-criticism was irrelevant—nothing major at all. Nothing I would judge anybody else harshly for committing or omitting. I was able to catch myself and basically say, “Who do I think I am that I have to expect such perfection from myself?”
My friend mentioned a quote a of Voltaire's “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Fixating on perfection is crippling. We will rarely feel that the time to do something is now. The time will always be after I’ve done this, or mastered that, or rehearsed however many more times. The need for perfection keeps us from putting ourselves out there in ways that would probably do us a lot of good.  But the chance never comes if we just keep self-critiquing forever.
There are some areas that demand such detail-oriented nitpicking—where almost really isn’t good enough. But there are many situations in everyday life that would turn out so much better if we would just relax and do our best and move on. Doing our best at the moment is the important thing. Also, according to many of the sages, there is no future—there is only now.
So ultimately the closest we will get to perfection comes from having the courage to put ourselves out there when we are merely good, and over time—that good gets better and better.