The problem with me is that I’m a driven performance-based perfectionist who doesn’t have an “off” button.
You might be asking “what’s wrong with that”. And on some level, you would be correct.
It has served my career and bank account well for several decades.
But living on the edge like that for too long WILL HAVE (not might have) catastrophic health, relationship and overall well-being negative effects.
And in my case, to the extreme. Burnout is real.
I knew I was getting more and more tired over the last few years, but the doctors, cardio tests, blood work, MRIs and every other test imaginable all showed I was healthy, really healthy.
Yet I was calling in sick every month, 3-day weekends, 4-day weekends, then starting to use up vacation time… just to recover to go back to work.
I had worked those kinds of hours my whole life and I loved my career.
So what’s the big deal?
The big deal came on August 10th, 2018 when I got home from an out of town job in my typical exhausted state. I told my bosses “I needed to take some time” and they were always all too happy to accommodate. The job was done and I “earned my rest”.
However, this time I never recovered.
Pure exhaustion consumed me, and I was in bed for weeks before even getting to a doctor to start running tests.
At the 12-month mark, we decided to terminate my leave of absence and I’ve been officially unemployed (otherwise knows as entrepreneurship) and considered disabled ever since.
And I’m still not getting much better!
I’ve got some strength back, and have made huge lifestyle changes that are helping, but my mind and body are still fried.
Every day feels like I’m waking up on a Saturday morning after a 70hr work week and I desperately need rest.
But I do rest, I rest a lot… or do I?
A Needed Shift In Awareness
The reality is, I may be bedbound 50% of my days, but the other 50% I’m working on this new coaching business, and producing content through blogs and podcasts and going to counseling and doing as much light housework or exercise my body can handle, and still serving at church, and, and, and…
The reality is, my every day is crammed with anxiety over my todo lists.
Sure, the lists may look different than they did before I got sick, but I’m still the same driven workaholic obsessed with my todo lists and I suspect that is a huge contributor to why my body and mind aren’t resetting.
I’ve got to slow down mentally before I will get the peace and rest my body has been so desperately begging for over the last many years.
But it’s not intuitive, it doesn’t come naturally.
My therapist suggested I try things that used to be fun, or other ways to unwind and disconnect.
My Reset List
- Picked up a childhood pastime of building model airplanes
- Took online Udemy art classes and began sketching and drawing
- Began doing mindfulness meditation and light yoga
- Watching Netflix shows and movies
My Reset Results
- model airplanes are hard and I suck at it. I spend hours and get frustrated on pieces coming unglued, paint being sloppy, not being able to see the tiny pieces. I’ve spent a hundred dollars on magnifying holders, sanding kits, special paintbrushes and dammit this just isn’t as fun as I remember it to be.
- I can’t draw! My desire is for landscapes, to recreate vacation scenes or drive to the mountains and draw the beautiful vistas. My proportions are wrong, can’t get shapes right. It’s just an abstract cartoon looking like a hot mess, and it’s not fun! So take more courses, spend 100’s on better art supplies, still not fun!
- Ughhhhh, who can lay still for 20 minutes and not have the mind wander for 19 of them. Practice, practice practice… spend hundreds on meditation apps and Muze headband. Still can’t shut down, not fun!
- What, there’s nothing wrong with watching every season of Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and The 100 in a month is there?
Let me say that all of those things are awesome and I highly recommend all of them.
But can you see the problem? It’s pretty darn obvious when drawn out like that…
NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE
Perfectionism and obsession are born many times from childhood trauma, neglect or some form of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) that writes false narratives on our soul which prevents us from being able to balance, to rest, to find peace or joy between the todo list action items.
For me, it became pretty clear through counseling
Where The Wheels Come Off The Bus
CHORES FIRST THEN PLAY
My dad grew up in the depression with 13 brothers and sisters on a farm in the midwest. As soon as a kid could walk they were put to work. It was a hard life and you worked to survive. It was a necessary mindset on many levels, and it was all my dad knew. And he passed it on to me.
I have very vivid memories as a young kid being outside pulling weeds (my most hated chore) and I would wander off chasing butterflies or something. That behavior was met with wrath. Dad was angry at life, and he took it out on me and mom. And the punishment was severe, always verbal and if it happened more than once the punishment became physical.
You simply had no time for play because there were always more chores to get done. And I can now see how that manifested in my adult life. As a field engineer fixing computers at grocery stores and gas stations, the pager was always going off. I wouldn’t each lunch or stop for the day until I was completely exhausted or all my work was done. Food and rest can wait. (Hello, self-care anyone?)
STOP CRYING OR I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT
Anyone ever experiences that one? My dad would punish me with the belt, leaving welts across my back, arms and legs and then tell me to stop crying. WFT?
But you know what, you can stop crying. It is either stuff the emotions or continue to get hit and yelled at. It’s amazing how resilient and strong-willed a kid can become for survival.
But what do you think that teaches? Emotions are bad, stuff them and for sure never talk about them or let them slip out.
Science has known for a while the physical toll high levels of stress, depression and “stuffing emotions” can have neurophysically. The mind/body connection is real.
Gee, I wonder what living like that for 50 years can do to a mind/body? Cause Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, facilitate a nervous breakdown, cause ulcers, cancer, and a host of other “unexplained” diseases?
Add to that addictions of all kinds and mental disorders. Stuffing emotions is an epidemic of global proportions, but we’ve all been trained well to not acknowledge or talk about it. Just man up, leave the past in the past.
Our bodies remember
UNSAFE, FEAR OF THE FUTURE
Another todo list nemesis. Each item on the list represents “failure if not complete”.
Again, for normal people, this can be easily navigated with a well-balanced internal compass. But for the rest of us…
We all know worrying about the future is a chronic problem with almost zero value. Our fight-or-flight part of the brain doesn’t recognize time. So thinking about a “possible” future failure feels like present time danger. And the neuro-cocktail of chemicals that flood the system when in danger (real or perceived) is another destructive life force.
For me, two of everyday fears almost always manifested.
If I upset my mom during the day she would threaten me with “wait until your father gets home”.
This was a big deal and terrifying. Dad always got home from work tired and usually short-tempered. Dealing with “that damn kid” is the last thing he wanted. And if mom went whining to him about something I did, it was a lock that I was going to get beat.
And the second scenario, it didn’t matter if mom didn’t complain about me, dad didn’t need a good reason to blow up and rage on me.
Life as a child was all about the eggshells, fear. Fear that I would do something wrong. Fear that dad might “think” I did something wrong even if I didn’t.
Even when things were great, there was no rest because it would never last. So even when having fun, it’s wasn’t fun because fun, happiness, and peace never lasts long anyway.
Talk about carrying crap beliefs into your adult life. Fear kills us from this inside far worse than any circumstances in our outside world could ever do.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
This is another one where the todo list can become toxic.
I’ve noticed in me that every project that I take on I am miserable in the middle ground between points A and B. I want to go from 3rd-grade arithmetic to calculous overnight. I see the goal, let’s ge there already.
Necessary steps are an annoying delay to the prize. It’s a microwave mentality that creates mountains of internal discord and is the purest enemy to quality work. It simply wants the todo list done without regard to quality.
A good link to my childhood on this one was when my dad let me run the gas lawnmower around 12 years old. This was a big deal!
He even went in the house and let me do it all on my own instead of hovering over me yelling every time I missed a blade.
I was going to show him, and my inner perfectionist was born. I spent hours perfectly getting every blade, sweeping down walkways and edging around planters. This was the best the yard could ever look.
And when I proudly finished up every task, put the trashcans away, stored the lawnmower in the shed and ran into the house to get my dad’s inevitable approval over my amazing work, his response was spit out in a sarcastic tone: “I saw you went around the yard to the center and I taught you to go back and forth, you just never listen”.
And that was his only comment.
Even my perfectionism isn’t enough.
And all of these are only single examples of a few items. Amazed I survived quite honestly!
So What Is The Solution?
For one, lots of counseling!
Ok, I say that a little tongue in cheek, but the reality is we can only move forward by looking back.
We have to root out the faulty beliefs about where we fit in the world and destroy the negative thinking patterns that were created to fit within that false view of ourselves in the world.
“We can never thrive if we are too busy simply trying to survive”
So, back to the point of this post, I have chosen to create a new kind of TODO list.
THE TO BE LIST
This doesn’t mean that I have thrown out my todo lists, they are still incredibly valuable and necessary.
But, I spend time every morning committing to these foundations first before I even consider looking at my goals for the day.
THE SEVEN IMPERATIVES
1. BE IMPECCABLE WITH MY WORDS
This is about character. What we say matters. If I say yes, then follow through. So I better make sure that I only say yes to the things that come up that I am 100% committed to following through on. I must learn to say no more often if I don’t want to feed my workaholism and perfectionism, and ultimately my guilt and shame when I ‘m forced to let people down.
2. SELF-AWARENESS OF MY STATES
I’m a huge fan of Tony Robbins’ concept of States. Although 95% of our reality exists in the subconscious layer in our primitive brain (fight-or-flight, amygdala), we still have the ability to train and strengthen our higher functioning thoughts (consciousness, pre-frontal cortex).
For some, the training began with healthy parenting early in life.
But if you experienced any kind of trauma or neglect, every minute of every day is literal survival and our fight-or-flight turns on nearly permanently. This is necessary as a young kid trying to survive, but living purely on emotional needs has killed billions of people prematurely, and it will continue to do so.
Few of us are trained at self-care, which can only take place with high levels of self-awareness.
The four primary areas I focus on every morning first thing to ensure my “States” are centered before anything else are as follows.
I do this in the form of affirmations through self-talk.
Of course, you should personalize these based upon your own beliefs and needs.
Centering Of The Four States
- Mental – my mind is clear and sharp. I am focused and alert. My mind is stronger than my emotions and I am aware at all times what I am thinking. When I notice that I have begun ruminating, worrying or daydreaming I will gently return to what I’m focused on in the present. I am smart, creative, focused and whole. I love the way my mind works, I love my intellect and my problem-solving skills. Thank you, God for making my mind the way you have. I promise to care for my mind today.
- Physical – my body is healthy, I’m feeling strong today. I am so grateful for this new day and new opportunities to find ways to exercise my body. I can almost feel the oxygen-rich blood pumping freely to my muscles and organs bring health and growth and new healing. I will not push my body further than it can go, I will not demand more from it than it can give, so I will remain aware of when I need a break, and when I can push. Thank you God for giving me this body, I promise to take good care of it today through nutrition, exercise, and self-love.
- Emotional – I am feeling great, I am confident, I am safe, I am secure, I have choices, I have options, I have freedom. I choose today to embrace this day with grace and patience. I will be aware of when my mood changes and gently restore myself to exactly how I’m feeling right now, which is overwhelmingly grateful for this day and the opportunities that lay ahead for connecting with others, myself and God. Life is great and I feel great, and today I choose to thrive. No matter what I get done, it will be enough for today.
- Spiritual – God I thank you. There is an uncountable number of people who are never born every day. But you chose me, you gave me life. You gave me a working body, mind, and soul. You kept me alive through the suffering years. You now have filled me with purpose and promises and joy. You never promised an easy life, but I know that with you I can do all things. I will lean on you today, even more than yesterday. I trust you with my life, my future, my past, and especially in my present. For today, it’s you and me. I humbly accept responsibility for the choices that I will make, and I trust that you will guide me in all my decisions. I trust that I will find not only purpose but rest in you today. Thank you, Father, you are a Good Father, you are my Abba Father and today I will be grateful for all that you have done, are doing, and the promises to come.
There are many ways to do morning priming, this is just a quick one I’m doing currently. I am also, as mentioned, a big fan of Tony Robbins. For another take on an outstanding morning priming exercise that I’ve done probably a hundred times check out Tony’s Priming Video. It’s more on the motivational success side of things, but super helpful all-around.
3. BE KIND TO MYSELF
This one should seem obvious and hardly warrant being mentioned, but you’d be amazed at the deficit much of the world has in this area.
The criticality here is that we can’t know how to be kind to ourselves until we discover how we have not been kind to ourselves.
The easy-to-reach-low-hanging-fruit is the internal torture chamber of perfectionism, people-pleasing, workaholism, ruminating, negative beliefs and a host of other barely perceptible driving forces that keep us mentally and emotionally wired and fired beyond healthy limits.
This area of self-awareness takes a lot of practice though.
I found accountability is helpful resource here too. We must have a tribe of people around us who will notice when we are lost in our heads.
(see my post lost in the weeds for a deep-dive into this area of awareness)
STEPS TO BEING KIND TO YOURSELF
- Not skipping meals
- Taking regular breaks
- Letting progress not perfection be the goal
- Celebrating every achievement, big or small
- Finding opportunity to laugh with others
- Letting people do nice things for you like buying you lunch or running an errand for you or slashing your bosses tires (ok, maybe not that last one)
- Having a cheat day – with limits! This one is dangerous for me. I use food or TV as medication and escape so I can make a whole chocolate cake and 3 fast food meals or bingeing TV an entire day my cheat. That is not self-care. My new motto is “no cheat days”… but I still give myself limited permissions here.
- Take time to sing or dance. Getting alone might be tough, but when I put on some kickin worship music my soul soars. Do whatever works for you, but taking mini heart & soul breaks can do wonder for a mid-day reset.
- Develop your own reset list (see mine above). When I’m in a good “State” then my reset list works great. Hobbies, meditation, yoga/stretching, go for a walk. Anything that lets you breathe in life. We can’t be serious ALL the time.
Obviously, this is another list that you should personalize. Take time thinking about the things that make you happy, bring you joy, give you a sense of connectedness to others, make you feel good to be alive.
4. STAY PRESENT IN THE NOW
Much of what this list is already about is staying present. Rumination or stuck thoughts can rabbit trail me very easily. Being a writer I spend a lot of time in my head already so it’s hard for me to notice when I’m in the weeds again.
TRICKS TO STAYING PRESENT
- The 2-Minute Awareness Check
- Feel the materials and textures of items or furniture around you. Soft, rough, cold, metallic, etc…
- Smell any smells you can notice around you or intentionally bury your nose in a flower or burn incense or candles.
- Listen to all the separate sounds you can identify near and far. The hum of the computer or sirens outside, or the lazy coworkers gossiping down the hall (gee, ya think I’m still harboring some workplace resentments haha)
- Look at the shapes and colors of objects around you or pick out tiny details as far as you can see outside a window.
- Taste food or drink and pay close attention to texture, flavors, temperature
- The Millisecond Jolt– wear a rubber band and snap it when you notice you are daydreaming or ruminating.
- 30-second Mindfulness Breathing. I use a 5×5 box breathing. Focus on your breathing and inhale slowly for the count of five, hold for a count of five, exhale for a count of five, and don’t inhale for a count of five. A few of those and I’m right as rain (whatever that means!?!?)
5. FOCUS ON SOLUTIONS
The benefits of this one should be pretty obvious also.
One huge breakthrough I had a few months ago was realizing how easy my career was yet relationships and other aspects of my personal life were a trainwreck.
When I sat down with intentionality to figure out why this was so, I found the answer!
In my career, failure was never even a consideration.
Maybe it was the perfectionism, but there was NEVER any fear involved or consideration of quitting.
For example, I had a huge project as an IT Manager where I was the only employee in the department (known as a One Man Show). We needed a new phone system. I knew nothing about phone systems. I did what anyone would do, I Googled “corporate phone systems”.
And the project began.
In my mind, I was going to roll out a new phone system and this was going to be awesome.
I ran into hundreds of knowledge deficits, procedural roadblocks, resource limitations, and timeline constraints.
But every step was simply “bring it” and “What’s Next”!
However, in my personal life, I’m riddled with fear, expectations, doubt, insecurity.
I’m the same exact person, but my beliefs about what I’m capable of is different.
The battle is in the mind.
When we focus 100% of our attention on the end-game, then there are no such things as roadblocks or quitting, everything becomes a mere speedbump, barely perceptible as “the next thing to solve”.
This one is huge and staying aware of it is changing my life.
6. BE AWARE OF CHOICES
For me, this ties into my childhood trauma garbage again.
As an only child in an abusive household, my body remembers the horrifying experience of “feeling trapped”. And rightfully so.
But as adults, we have choices.
The problem is when a situation resembles those old feelings of being stuck in a situation that we didn’t have control, our primitive brain can say “oh shit, I’m stuck” and we become convinced we have no options.
Are you in a bad relationship? You’re not stuck!
Are you in a bad job? You’re not stuck!
Are you in a bad financial situation? You’re not stuck!
Do you have poor health? You are not stuck!
Believing you are stuck guarantees that you will be stuck.
If you want a deeper dive on this then make sure to check out my podcast on anxiety
We have to take ownership for our beliefs and behaviors and recognize that until we are dead there will always be some way in which we can improve or at least better endure our current situations.
And that begins with our attitudes.
Instead of saying: “I am stuck, and this is impossible.”
Say: “I feel stuck but my feelings don’t dictate reality” and “This will be hard, but it is not impossible”.
When you take ownership of your future and change your self-dialogue, your feelings will change from hopelessness to hopefulness, from dread to eager anticipation.
And when that happens, creativity and drive have the opportunity to flourish once again.
7. BE CONNECTED TO MYSELF, OTHERS AND GOD
We can’t do this life alone.
When we are “feeling” overwhelmed or stuck or struggling to get by in any area of our life, the hardest thing to do is ask for help.
I recently had a therapy session where I was describing a situation that I felt trapped in and my therapist chose the NLP route (of which I’m a huge fan!). She asked me to describe what my situation “felt” like.
I described that it felt like having my arms wrapped in a rope, around and around a dozen times and I couldn’t reach the knot no matter how hard I tried.
She offered the standard NLP solutions, “what can you do to the rope?” she asked. “Can you disintegrate it, turn it into something else, can your arms turn rubbery so you can reach the rope”.
NLP is a lot of fun for us creative types, and it’s freaky how well it works.
But this time I couldn’t do any of that.
I replied, “no, this is like Wonder Woman’s Lasso, I am powerless to even move”.
She then asked me a question that surprisingly freaked me out and I violently reacted mentally and emotionally (my fight-or-flight triggered big time).
She asked, “can I untie the rope?”
This one question led to changing a big part of my life.
When she offered, in my mind’s eye I leaned over towards her in a submissive, “OK, let’s try”.
But the second I even considered letting her help to untie the ropes my mind screamed:
NO, IF YOU LET HER THEN YOU WILL NEED HER TO UNTIE ALL YOUR ROPES. YOU’VE GOT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO UNTIE YOUR OWN ROPE OR YOU WILL BE DEPENDENT UPON HER.
EUREKA, WE’VE STRUCK FAULTY BELIEF!!!!
It was at that moment that I realized, as a kid who was all alone and had to figure out how to survive on my own, I came to BELIEVE that people aren’t safe, nobody can help me, I must figure everything out on my own because people will leave you and if they were important to you, they will leave a huge hole.
A host of lies came pouring out, and I realized I NEVER ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of weakness and dependence. And I have suffered my whole life because of that belief.
And this plays out in every aspect of my life. Even with God.
I came to Christ nearly 9 years ago. But I am now recognizing more and more that I only give him pieces of my life that I’m ok with if he screws it up because I can take it back and fix it through my old behaviors of food or porn or other ways to “escape or medicate the feelings”.
This act of surrender and trust is huge and still really difficult for me.
But I have found that as I begin to ask for help and trust others that my sense of connection to the world, God and even myself is growing exponentially.
Every person on the planet has their own stuff, and two can carry a load much easier than one.
We’ve got to lose the Lone Ranger mentality if we are ever going to thrive in this life.
I believe this is a crossroads we all face every morning. We can choose to almost maniacally pour ourselves into our todo lists and maybe make progress, but at what cost?
I now know that self-care must always be my highest priority.
When we stop taking care of the essentials of proper sleep, nutrition, mental and emotional wellness and spiritual wholeness through maintaining healthy and valuable relationships, the road ahead will likely be much shorter than we had hoped or planned.
So find ways to take care of yourself. Heed some of the warnings from my own life and grab hold of some of the suggestions and make them your own.
And don’t forget to join the conversation in the comment section below.
We all grow together when we share the insights we gain in our mutual pursuits of Life Mastery. Be encouraged, your words could change the life of someone else.
And if you saw yourself in any of this stuff, don’t hesitate to reach out for a FREE CONSULTATION.
I’m happy to spend an hour chatting with anyone, even if it doesn’t lead to a coaching relationship. Just click the link and scroll to the bottom of the page and fill out the simple form. I will get back to you usually within 24 hours.
So what do you think, ready to tackle the day?
Me too, Let’s do this!
Certified Life Coach & NLP Practitioner
Founder of Nikaos Strategic Coaching
Developer of The Life Mastery Project and Life Mastery Series