Taking action to move our lives forward often doesn’t look sexy. There’s so much negative talk around the concept of adulting that I want to offer a different lens for us to look through—one that’s generous, devotional and loving, one that’s neither abstract nor intangible, but focuses on one single, simple, grounded step at a time. I think about these kinds of actions not just in service of our own lives, but in service of moving our lives in a certain direction.
The Difference Between Self Care & Checking Out
The narrative around self-care is a tricky thing. Actually caring for ourselves is so important, and often I see this term hijacked as a kind of all-encompassing removal from life, as in, “I just can’t today.” Ultimately only we can be the judge of what is self care and what is checking out, but for the sake of clarity let me give you an example from my own life.
Last weekend, I flew down to Austin, Texas to be a guest teacher at an in-person event. Generally, after a weekend like that, I’m out of resources and in need of self care. So I got home, had a hot bath, talked to my best friend on the phone, then took myself off to the movies. Going to the movies is my favorite self-care practice—I do it when it’s too much work to ‘do’ my emotions on my own. The music pulls me in all kinds of directions; I laugh and I cry, and by the end of it, I feel like I’ve processed a lot. I woke up the next morning, a Monday, and I could still feel the part of me that didn’t really want to ‘do’ life yet. This is actually the exact kind of moment where I think it’s important to do life in some way. It’s not about overcoming or pushing through by ignoring our emotions or bodies, or trying to accomplish some unnecessarily big task, but I knew that I’d done some good self care and now was not the time to lay in bed and complain about adulting.
Instead of overdoing it with trying to do something big, or underdoing it with checking out entirely, I chose one small thing I could do that day to move my life forwards.
What can I do today to affirm life?
The thing I ended up doing was not actually small, but the specific action on that day was. I finalized my divorce from my ex-husband, who I’d been separated from for 8 years. I’m proud that my ex-husband and I haven’t needed to formalize our divorce until now, and we have found ways for our life & family & co-parenting to flow beautifully over these years. But it also became clear that it was time now to deal with the complicated paperwork, and that doing so would actually be in service of (supporting the flow of) life. To finalize our divorce would move our lives forward and to not do so at this point would be inertia. So we met with the notary, filled out the paperwork, stamped our fingers, and completed the process. I had spent many hours on the paperwork over the past months & we had waited the requisite 6 months from the time we first filed. It is often this final step of a process where we falter & allow stagnation by not completing. And, sometimes it’s the very first step that stops us. What’s important to notice either way, is that the one step is usually actually small, although it may begin or complete something quite large or complex. Stay with the small step; that’s where the life force is.
What would free up your life?
The question and invitation I want to offer is: What, if it were handled, would free you in your life? I don’t mean if it was handled by some fairy godmother who just magically waved her wand and made it go away, but in your tangible life, under the things you can control, what is something you’re not handling, which if you handled, would free up unbounded time and energy?
One of the things I get very hoardery about is electronic data. I think I might need old files, emails & receipts from 10 years ago, or random notes & quotes I rarely, if ever, go back to. Subsequently, there is a whole lot of dust gathering electronic data in my energetic space, and I think if I were to go in and do something with it, it would free up tons of energy and space.
Often when my sink is filled with dishes I feel overwhelmed. When I take the very first step of unloading the dishwasher, everything becomes more manageable. Similarly, if I have ‘respond to emails’ as a to-do, I often feel overwhelmed because there are hundreds of unread emails in my inbox. However, if I get clear that the one step is responding to this specific person/email, then I can do the ‘adulting’ of actually responding to the (damn) email!
Once you’ve figured out what would free up your time, space and energy, then figure out the very first step you need to take to get you there.
Bring it into a tangible first step.
Any time I work with someone & in every program I offer, I always ask the question “what is one tiny step you can take towards achieving the thing you want most?” 90% of the time, what people come up with is not actually a tiny step. It’s usually a huge task, and it’s often very abstract. For example, ‘love myself more’ is not a tiny, tangible first step; ‘plan out my 10-week program’ is not a tiny, tangible first step; ‘clean the house’ is not a tiny, tangible first step. When we choose actions that are too large & too abstract, we feel overwhelmed and stuck – and often decide we ‘just can’t’ & check out from life completely.
Whatever you decide on, the first thing to do is make it tangible and specific. Could you say you did or didn’t do it? For instance, ‘schedule 10 minutes 3 times/week for mirror-work’ or ‘spend 5 minutes touching my body in a loving way’ are possible tiny, tangible next steps on the self-love journey; ‘choose call dates for my 10-week program’ or ‘reach out to my mentor for support’ are possible tiny, tangible next steps towards actually creating your program; ‘wash the dishes’ or ‘vacuum the kid’s room’ are are possible tiny, tangible next steps towards cleaning the house. Each of these steps is an act of devotion to life force that wants to move.
Maybe the first step might actually be researching what the first step is. That’s what it was with the divorce for me. I was totally overwhelmed by the process at first, so I took it one step at a time: ‘Find out what the steps for divorce in Sonoma County are’ was a step! ‘Download the first piece of paperwork to fill out’ was a step! Etc…
Once you have the very first small step, it’s all about just doing it. There’s no easy way around that. What’s important is remembering that you don’t have to know what comes after it, because once you do the first thing, you’re in a new spot. Now what’s your next step?
A 10-mile hike is completed by taking one step at a time. If you just keep taking steps, along with conscious breaks to drink water and enjoy the scenery along the way, you will get there eventually. If you take it slow and steady, you won’t get overwhelmed, or stuck.
Although adulting can be a challenge, it’s also a joy to serve life. When we take small, tangible steps to move forward, we work on creating the life we want to live – one step at a time.
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