By Frances C. Jones
Although “Innocent until proven guilty” is the law of the land, I find many women more than willing to judge—and convict-- themselves of daily crimes of incompetence, inefficiency and general disorganization without ever hiring a defense counsel to speak on their behalf, much less consulting a jury of their peers.
I will take one of my typical days as a case in point. Even when I wake at five, take the dog to the park, lead a conference call, go to yoga, speak at a luncheon, prospect for new business, coach a client, and meet a friend for a drink, I will still come home and berate myself for not having stayed on top of my email, done the laundry and organized my speaking schedule. And if I’m anywhere near tax season, the holiday season, or bikini season, forget it.
It’s possible you’ve experienced these feelings.
If you’re one of the super women who also manage to commute to work, take your kids to sports practice and/or go on date night with your husband, I mentally—frankly—build an altar to you. I can’t conceive of the opportunities for personal condemnation these would provide for me.
That said, there are a few things I have slowly, painfully learned.
Contentment is a choice. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has said, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” I’ve come to realize contentment is much the same: to accept that there will never be a day when my business is booming, my bills are paid, my hair is highlighted, my family is adoring, etc. One way Thay recommends to cultivate happiness and contentment is to build in pauses to notice what is working: When your alarm goes off, don’t jump up but lie still and take three breaths; When your phone rings, don’t lunge for it but take three breaths. You could even close your eyes and take three breaths right now.
Transition time isn’t just for toddlers: aka the ability to re-prioritize trumps the ability to organize. Schedules and routines are great. That said, sticking to them too rigidly is going to send you straight to the nut hut. There will always be the day when you get home -- triumphant -- from your breakfast meeting and the gym, only to discover the dog has thrown up all over your bed, and taking him to the vet is the new priority. What’s the best mental Midol for these situations? As counter-intuitive as it may seem, I’ve discovered that it’s to take one full minute to do nothing. Why? Because what generally happens in these moments is we grab our phone, our computer, etc, and immediately try to rectify the situation – often leaving a trail of garbled/semi-hysterical-sounding messages. Giving yourself transition time helps you re-prioritize.
Ask yourself, “What’s the smallest thing I can do that will make the biggest difference?” With an extensive list of things to do in front of me, tackling the big things first often seems like the logical course of action. That said, big things are- by definition—big, and the likelihood of my completing them lickety-split is unlikely. This generally means that at the end of the day my to-do list is still a disaster, giving me a new reason to be grumpy with myself. With this in mind, I have begun to scan my to-do list and ask myself, “What’s the smallest thing I can do to make a big difference?”
My hope is that these pointers will give you the sanity necessary to declare yourself “Innocent” every time you bring your mental gavel down.
Frances Cole Jones is the founder of Cole Media Management and the author of How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Selling Your (Brilliant) Self in any Situation, and of the new The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today's Business World.
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