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In my first post, I wrote about the dangers of striving for perfection.
Namely, we hurt ourselves when we set ourselves up to achieve some unobtainable standard of being perfect enough. Of being charming, rich, smart, successful, healthy, exciting, or otherwise-fill-in-the-blank enough.
While The Tending Year will generally record my experience with trying out new self development tools, this post details a method I’ve been practicing for a little while. A few months ago, driving home from work (most of my good ideas come when I’m driving), I thought: self development—working my path, if you will—is about making my life better, right? So, I tried to imagine what the “Best Day” would be for me (note, that doesn’t say “perfect”; rather, we are shooting for an ideal day rooted in optimism and humility–not one based in putting ourselves down for what we are not or what we do not have—yet). My Best Day would probably go something like this:
- Wake up early, well-rested, and cozy
- Greet my pets and my sweetheart with tenderness and joy
- Drink warm lemon water and a fresh green smoothie while I brew delicious coffee and cook a warm, healthy breakfast for sweetheart and myself
- Slowly and quietly start my day with yoga or pilates or meditation in a sunny room, then settle in at my work station in my clean home office that is also lit by the sun
- Accomplish a fair amount of tasks, checking them off my fancy to do list with a fancy pen
- Take a mid-day break to recharge by eating delicious lunch and going for a walk, to the gym, or to run errands
- Finish at least one more big task for work after my break, then put work away for the day
- Catch up with a friend, maybe on the phone or in person on a walk
- Prepare a delicious dinner for my sweetheart and myself while we catch up on our days
- Take a relaxing bath with candles, crystals, oils, and salts while I read a book or listen to a podcast
- Watch a movie or do a craft with my sweetie, or entertain friends in our home
- Cozy up for bed, knowing that I’ve checked off my boxes and I’m prepared for tomorrow
If I look back at this very glamorous dream list for my Best Day, I see a few themes: warmth, light, quiet, physical movement, loved ones, the elements/nature, abundance, alone time, good food, preparation, softness. I’m not surprised by my list, because I believe that I thrive and function best when I can move calmly, slowly, and intentionally through my day.
Some days I get lucky, and I can do many of the things on my Best Day list. But, as a PhD student who has three jobs and sometimes picks up contract work, is in daily physical pain due to a gym injury, and is in a long distance relationship, my every day often does NOT look like that Best Day!
So, if I know that my Best Day list will satisfy my need for a slow and steady outlook, but my life doesn’t always allow for that, what should I do? If I return to my list of the key themes and I condense them down to their essence, I get: spirit, time, and love. Using these three keys as guides, I can approach any day–good or bad or in between–and make decisions that honor my authentic self and benefit my journey on my path.
Using Three Keys to Choose Yes or No
I’ve noticed a theme in self growth materials about saying yes and saying no. Giving ourselves permission to say no; knowing that when we say yes to something, we are saying no to something else; knowing that if we only say no but never say yes, we might not advance.
Obviously, we won’t be able to simplify or demystify all challenges with three keys. But, I think about them as guides to help me make decisions. Maybe one of the keys stands out when you check in with yourself. I know that time comes to my mind first, and it can account for love and spirit, too.
I was recently driving home in the evening after working on multiple tasks since the morning. I thought “I’m too tired to go to the gym, but I really do want to go. Also, I’m hungry. And I want to do my laundry. And my nails. And pack to go see my sweetheart tomorrow.” Realistically, there was no way I could fit all of those things into my evening! I thought about my keys—specifically time—and it reminded me, “Girl, be realistic.” It felt like I was giving myself permission to let some things go and reevaluate my priority list, and a wave of relief passed over me. If I tried to fit all of those tasks into a few hours, I would be going against what I determined was my path.
Since I developed my Three Keys, when I have faced a challenge due to making a decision, either because I was afraid I would let someone down or because I was tired, hangry, overwhelmed, or otherwise not on my A-game, I checked in with my Three Keys. Which decision would allow me to feel connected to my spirituality, meaning humble and grateful? Which decision was kindest, both to myself and to others? Which decision would allow me to leave blank space in my day, or allow me to really thrive in the moment?
When I don’t try to fit way too many things into the span of one evening, I reserve enough energy to do dishes before bed and to relax in the bath. I intentionally leave my phone in my purse when I’m hanging with a friend. When I choose to celebrate spirit, I feel whole, happy, and grounded. I tend to my alters more, find myself noticing and appreciating nature more, and feel calmer. I feel humble, whole, and energized.
I might not always know the best decision right away, and Goddess knows I still feel weird about putting myself first, but if I check in with time, spirit, and love, I will feel better about the decision I choose to make, because I know that it serves my larger path.
Let’s work through your Best Day to get to your guide keys! Now, it would be easy to create a Best Day that focuses on what we lack or what we wish we had but cannot access, and I don’t want that. For example, my Best Day list didn’t include anything about the daily pain I have experienced since last June when I bruised my tailbone. Luckily, I am able to work at a standing desk in my home office, but sitting on a cushiony seat, even with a special butt pillow, just plain hurts. I didn’t write “Sit on a fancy reading couch for two hours” on my list because, well, while it would be awesome, it’s just going to make me feel like shit to focus on how I can’t do that. Instead, I thought of something that is doable: I know I can work in my standing desk office, and with light and fancy stationary and warmth I’m gonna feel amazing. The values I would assign to this would be comfort, light, seeking knowledge, and beauty.
- Write your Best Day list from morning to night! Include things that you know could be possible, even if the whole the list can’t be possible in the same day.
- Use adjectives, feelings, or sensations in your descriptions.
- Look over your list, and summarize some themes you see occurring. These might be feelings, values, places, people, or sensations, such as taste or sound.
- Try to synthesize once more, down to no more than 5 keys. As a reminder, my keys were time, spirit, and love. As you decide on your keys, sit with the terms you come up with. See how your heart receives them. If one feels forced, or if your body is telling you it doesn’t feel authentic, don’t force it and try another instead.
Try out your keys on a decision you have on your plate, or something that’s on your mind. It could be as simple as “should I go to the gym tonight?” or “did I embarrass myself in the meeting today?” Going to the gym checks off all of my keys: I get to listen to self development podcasts that make feel whole and connected to others (spirit); the act of leaving home to go to the gym serves as a reminder to stop working for the day (time); and it is nourishing for my physical and mental health (self love). To help figure out if I embarrassed myself in a meeting, I might work through the keys as follows: Spirit: Was what I said in line with my personal values? Time: Honestly, I only spoke for 1 minute out of the 90 minute meeting. The likelihood anyone even remembered what I said is slim. Love: I am proud that I acknowledged that we should care more about concern X!
I’d love to hear your keys! Feel free to share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or below in the comments!
*Please note that the original version of this post was published here.