Tiny Dancer

Warning. Things are about to get mushy.

You’ve heard me say this a lot, but my eldest child is a carbon copy of his indulgent father. He looks like him, talks like him, thinks like him. They have similar reactions to things. Neither of them see it, but as someone who loves both of them beyond reason, I may be the world’s foremost authority on each of them individually.

What you have also heard me say is that my younger child is a carbon copy of me, just…well, he’s a boy. He looks like me. Talks like my grandmother, GiGi, of whom I am a carbon copy. Has a dramatic flair, is irrationally entertaining. He experiences and expresses love through his body, and when he wants to show you affection, will hug you so tight your head pops off.

While he should, theoretically, given his relatively easygoing nature, be easy to love, I find that sometimes he is too much like me to love.

This says waaaaay more about how I feel about myself than how I feel about him. Do we agree on that?

Well, my youngest, as I mentioned, is a kinesthetic kinda guy. He learns and apprehends the world through movement and touch. He is a whirling dervish with a keen sense of his surroundings and the physical capabilities of others.

He was accepted at the Conservatory this year in a first year dance class. This was entirely an accident. You see, last year, I messed up when trying to get him registered for first year music class. So this year, I registered early and put him down for both music and dance, thinking that maybe if I did it that way, I could assure him a slot somewhere at the Conservatory.

I’m very cautious, usually, to not project my own failed ambitions onto this child, because, like I said, he is very much like me. I don’t want him to live with the weight of having to live out my dreams for me.

Music was important to me growing up, and their indulgent father has always said he regretted not getting a formal music education. So Conservatory was how we agreed to go about this. It doesn’t hurt that it is a three minute walk from the apartment.

But I get this irrepressible excitement when I picture him dancing. In part because he’s naturally elegant:

The child in question in 2020, being explosively elegant after finger painting.

I also, yes, get nostalgic about my own early love of whirling and dervishing.

I was afraid that something would happen to discourage him from wanting to go to his dance class. His brother, teasing him about going to “ballet” did not help matters. I was afraid that there would be no other boys there, and that he would feel duped.

I quietly went to the Conservatory cooperative store, where you can buy second hand music scores, Method books and dance clothes. I bought him his black dance leggings and white Lycra t-shirt, the uniform for first year boys in the dance program.

I almost didn’t tell him that he had to wear something special to his dance class. I was afraid an outright refusal would ensue (because he is just like me and hates being told what to wear.)

But, after couching the announcement in just the right way, he was actually excited about it. And he wanted to try it on. And he looked suddenly very grown up. (That’s him being John Travolta channeling Baryshnikov up top.)

We were lucky. There were two other boys in his dance class, plus a lot of little girls in lavender leotards and plum tights.

He always stands straight as an arrow, and my little heart pitter pattered as I watched the studio assistant lead the class away into the depths of the dance wing, to which parents are not permitted, my littlest man, although not the tallest in the group, head and shoulders above the rest.

His first week was great. He confessed to having enjoyed it.

But in the second week it was hard to get him motivated. I know all about this…the dread of commitments is, unfortunately, one of the character traits I passed on to my mini-me.

When he reappeared from the studios with this exhausted grin on his face, I took his hand and urged him homeward, trying not to ask too many questions, hoping he would volunteer something.

The most info I got was that his teacher, Vincent, told him to try walking like a hippo, which he did really well. (Are we surprised?)

Once out on the street, he was barely moving forward. Can it be? Is it true? This child is worn out!

I leaned down to him, my head and shoulders above the rest nearly six year old, and I asked, “May I carry you?” He yawned, smiled and held his arms up. His little legs went around my waist, his arms nearly popping my head off once he was settled.

We were walking into the sunshine down a busy sidewalk. I was advancing blindly.

“Hold me closer tiny dancer…” I sang.

Usually, he shouts “STOP SINGING” when I even put together two words that sound remotely musical. NOTHING.

Hold me closer, tiny dancer
Count the headlights on the highway
Lay me down in sheets of linen

You had a busy day today

I don’t know, I can’t know….I don’t even want to know what the future holds in store for him. What I know is that today, he is living his best life.

And so am I.

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Week 38: Somebody Pinch Me!

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#1 Connect better with the Scalawags according to their Love Languages

Okay, somebody pinch me.

I am experiencing a parenting seachange and I am wedged between waiting for the other shoe to drop, and flailing into nostalgic oubli of just how horrendously difficult these last few years have been.

You see, things are going well right now. Something dramatic has happened with my eldest, who is now proudly seven years old. He is…I don’t know how to say this…reasonable? Less moody? Rational?

The problem of course, is that I have six years of PTSD from his childhood nagging at my psyche, so I am distrusting of this change. But with each day that passes and he is pleasant, and polite, and kind to his brother, I get the inkling that this might actually be who he is.

Not to mention my littlest, who surprised me this week by making us late for school…not because he wouldn’t get his shoes on, not because he wouldn’t put his coat on but because he had found a little whiteboard and a whiteboard marker and was practicing sounding out words and writing them on the aforementioned whiteboard.

Or as we were listening to a story from Dan Gutman’s My Weird School series, and when one of the characters is practicing his times tables, my eldest starts mocking the character, saying, “everybody knows that 4 times 4 is 16!” and then his younger brother, who was seated next to him, says, “Would you teach me to do math?” and the eldest says, “Sure. It’s easy. Mama, turn off the book,” and they proceed to do math for fun.

And I’m wondering if I am in the Twilight Zone or if this is my life now.

#13 Develop the Go-To Catalogue

While not nearly as important as the above, I was still tickled pink when it came time to decide what I was going to wear on Tuesday, and then I had just a little flash of “I wonder what I was wearing this time last year?” and it happened by the miracle of hyperattention to detail that I had a photographic record of nearly all my outfits from last Fall.

Why? Because I’ve been working on this Go-To Catalogue thing for some time, and last Fall I didn’t have a method or a place to keep notes of it like I do now with Poppy Fields’ Miracle Planner. So I took photos.

Using those photos as inspiration, by Tuesday before I went to bed, I knew what I was wearing for the rest of the week. This felt like progress.

Sidenote: last Saturday I met up for lunch with my friends in the orchestra with which I sing, who were having an all-day rehearsal. Someone got an icebreaker game started, in which we were to write down a weird habit we have, and drop it into a hat. Then, we were to take one out of the hat and guess whose it was.

I wrote: I decide what I am going to wear the night before. I know. It’s juvenile and silly.

But it became a subject of discussion amongst the group and I had a minute or five to expound on the gospel of Mise en Place. I know, I know, I’m doing God’s work over here.

#4 Complete and Update the Home Binder

And completely not as interesting as any of the above, I took a dive into the home binder this week to find some info, and lo and behold, it was exactly where I hoped it would be and I felt like a freaking superhero.

Progress is a beautiful thing.

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Transcript Episode 31 : Mental Health

Episode 31: Mental Health 

Introduction

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we imagine ourselves living in homes with stained glass windows of our own design.

The podcast in which, on the occasion of your fairy godmother’s birthday, we talk about one of the inevitable facets of getting older and get ready for it, with a hefty dose of prevention.

The podcast in which Freud and the Philosopher Princess go head to head, and the Philosopher Princess scores a point.

My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so.

“Now now now, Lily Fields…”

Oh, that? That’s you, Cinderella. Yes, you sound like a southern belle because I don’t know how to do any other accent and I like to imagine you as a sweet innocent country bumpkin. You’ll see. It doesn’t hurt.

Now, Lily Fields, I do not believe that taking a home tour is a very podcast-friendly activity! Have you entirely lost your mind?

Ha! That is a very good question, my dear! I ask myself that same question at least three times a day. I think you’ll see, though, the house tour I am going to take you on is worth the podcastingly unfriendly detour.

I have the distinct suspicion that you are going to go off on a tangent today, Lily Fields, and I am fearing the worst.

For several years, as I have been trying to figure out how to pursue my Ideal Life, I have had a very simple core thought: what can I do right now so that future me will thank me. This is a weird line of thought, I know, but it was how I was able to express love to myself when everything else was a jumbled mess.

My dear Cinderella, I assure you, although you are a spry young thing with all your life ahead of you, if you listen to what I have to say today and put even a tiny bit of it into practice, future you will thank you.

It’s my birthday this week, and I want to get up on my birthday soapbox for a moment and say this: I want to publicly thank past me for the things she did to make my life easier today. I want to thank her for not giving up on building routines and habits that today help keep me sane. I want to thank her for believing that there was a future and hope for my life.

It was never easy, and rarely fun. But making the decision to prioritize future me over present me was easily the most fruitful act of self-love I could have engaged in. You loving yourself is the best gift you can give.

That was my tangent for today. I hope you enjoyed it. Happy birthday to me.

On with the show. Today we are talking about Mental Health.

Getting Started:

“Mental Health” is a buzzy pair of words, isn’t it?

It’s a wide ranging topic, which deals with the state of our well-being…psychologically, socially and emotionally. These factors are all deeply intertwined. You don’t need me to define those three factors for you, and I am in no way qualified to provide anything new on the topic.

There are so many elements that impact our Mental Health, as well. Genetics can be a factor—many of us can trace back symptoms of bi-polarism or narcissistic personality disorder back through generations. Genetics are not determinative. But we can have genetic predispositions towards a more fragile Mental Health.

Our life experiences, our childhoods and parental attachment styles can impact our Mental Health. 

For example, I don’t know what I did to my youngest child, but he cannot stand it when he doesn’t know exactly where everyone in our family is at all times. I wish I could pinpoint one experience that would have created this fear of abandonment in him, and I hope that with time it will become less rigid. But boy oh boy, watching him deal with this every day proves to me just how important our formative years are, and just how subtle an experience can be to create insecurities in our psyches. 

Deep-seated Mental Health issues like genetics and childhood trauma are not the issues that we are going to tackle today. These are best taken up with a Mental Health professional, and if you need one, or even suspect that you have need for one, I would recommend you find one.

Today, we are going to be talking about aspects of Mental Hygiene that are within our control, and how we can pursue our Ideal Life in the area of our Mental Health.

Part One: The Ideal Life

I want you to imagine you just entered a beautiful home. You wander from room to room, and you arrive in an office that has abstract stained glass windows.

The largest pane is made up of many different color circles, which all overlap in different ways. It’s breath-takingly exquisite. At the overlap of the circles, the colors change, mixing in glorious ways.

I want you to imagine that this stained-glass window is your life. Each of those circles is an area of your life…work, family, health, personal style, spirituality, commitments, marriage… The places where they overlap are the unique ways that you live out those areas, with the resources that you have…your time, your talent and your treasure.

Each of us imagines our Ideal Life differently, and on this podcast, we seek to define what each of those circles of that gorgeous Venn Diagram means to us. We start by asking ourselves the question, “In My Ideal Life, I am a person who…who what?“

When I first started asking myself that question, I ended up with nineteen overarching themes. Today, we are looking at the theme of Mental Health.

So, here is a sampling of some of my Ideal Life statements for the topic of Mental Health.

In my Ideal Life I am a person who:

  • doesn’t have panic attacks
  • knows how to recognize when hormones are making me crazy
  • is even-keeled
  • doesn’t make a mountain out of a molehill
  • holds her tongue when hormones start roiling
  • lets emotional cycles complete
  • has a healthy outlet for rage

There is a reason that we are most fertile when we are young and go through menopause when we are closer to fifty.

Raising small children and going through menopause at the same time make for uncomfortable bedfellows. As a discrete activity, there is nothing easy about raising small children. Likewise, there is nothing easy about going through menopause.

Doing these two unavoidable activities at the very same time? Zero stars, do not recommend.

And yet, and yet…that is where I find myself today. This experience is going to color a lot of what I have to say today, so buckle up, Cinderella. It’s going to be a bumpy, but worthwhile, ride!

Part Two: Menopause Watch Party

I’ve talked about this before, but at the overlap of our Mental Health and our Bodies lies the topic of Menopause. 

A million years ago, before I began puberty, my mother did something very very cool. She prepared me for it. She explained to me what was going to happen, and when I got my first period I wasn’t scared. I actually was kind of proud. I had been armed with information, had gotten answers to my questions, I knew what to do.

I don’t have daughters, and I must say, that is one part of parenting that I almost kind of regret that I won’t get to do. My mother gave me an amazing example. 

Since I have no daughters of my own, I have made it a bit of my mission as your fairy godmother, to prepare you for your menopause. Call me the Menopause fairy, if you will.

The tricky thing with this is that it isn’t as simple as “well, one day you are going to stop bleeding and here is how you deal with it.” 

Menopause is a sneaky little vixen. Yes, she is the wicked witch in our fairy tale. (Not to be confused with LiElla, your Wicked Stepsister who is absolutely kooky and delightful) Our villainess starts teasing her arrival years before she actually decides to grace us with her presence. She makes us feel wildly uncomfortable in our own bodies, in our own minds…

Now, given that I know that the majority of my listeners are between 39 and 44, I must admonish you, my fabulous Cinderellas: you can already make this transition easier for yourself, even if that sneaky little vixen is years off. 

You can make your life simpler by building a habit of tracking your monthly cycles. Track your symptoms, track when you get hormonal pimples, track your libido, track the length of your cycle. Track when you start to feel bloated or look six months pregnant even when you aren’t.

I learned how to do this years ago, when I was trying to get pregnant, and it became a habit that I never dropped. And so, when in January 2019 my usually clockwork periods and symptoms started to get wacky…a few days early or a few days late, an insane libido shift, mood swings like a teenage prom Queen, memory problems and three days a month during which I would have people asking me when my baby was due, well… I knew something was up.

But the first symptom was a period that came three days earlier than usual. This was a red flag that helped me put all the other oddities into perspective, and quickly.

Of course, when I talked to my OB/GYN about he, he dared say to me, “Everyone goes through it…you’re not the first, you won’t be the last.”

Even though he couldn’t or wouldn’t educate me, I did everything in my power to read up on the subject. Just like my mother had, before I got my period. I interrogated friends about their symptoms. I became that person who asks prying questions. That said, most women were not opposed to talking about their experiences. They just never had talked about their experiences before. We usually ended up laughing about how odd this whole process is!

I joined a Facebook group for peri-menopausal women, where I could ask embarrassing questions of women I would never meet in real life.

By being active about learning what I could possibly be up against, I was able to identify the symptoms and put them into words for myself.

One particular topic that I explored was that of the overlap between Mental Health and Creativity as a support system for Ménopause.

I had been reading up on different natural-ish ways to handle the mood swings that accompany the hormonal turmoil of menopause. May I remind you that while I may not look or sound like it, I am someone with a very high tolerance threshold for pain, and was quite adamant about having natural childbirth experiences.

I have, over my short forty-four almost forty-five years, had to learn to love and trust my body through all sorts of different changes and miniature crises. These were all fine and dandy, with various degrees of physical pain that I had to face. The physical pain, in many ways, made it seem real. Like something was happening, and, as they say, “No pain, no gain,” right?

Well. Menopause ain’t so satisfying as all that. Menopause hasn’t, so far, caused much more physical pain than the fact that I kinda can’t button my favorite jeans any more after four in the afternoon and the sundry night sweats and momentary nausea just before a hot flash.

What menopause has done is made me the very most short-tempered and ill-humored version of myself. Like, to the point that I don’t think a day in the past month has gone by where I haven’t muttered to myself something that you might hear a sailor shout at a trucker. Not to mention the rage that stirs up like a storm on Lake Erie: fast, nasty and short lived.

I have theories. Lots and lots of theories. Like…our bodies hold onto a lot of repressed emotions and Menopause is when the presssure of that repression finally cracks. The more unexpressed emotions we have, the longer it will take, or the more uncomfortable the symptoms. Again, this is just a theory I invented. 

But I like my theory. It gives me a tiny bit of power, in that if I can figure out how to express some of my rage in a safe way, maybe I can help my body along. I know this is not scientific, but it makes me feel like I am doing something to help. At worst, it’s a placebo effect.

All of this to say: I have only found two things that keep my rage under control and they are: drying my hair with a hair dryer and sewing. It’s as if the roar of the machine channels the roar of my rage and provides some kind of catharsis.

Thus why I have had really good hair lately, and also why I have been sewing like a maniac.

Well, imagine my delight when my philosopher husband shared with me the Freudian notion of sublimation. Freud says that sublimation is when we take our societally unacceptable impulses (Freud always takes everything back to sexual impulses, but plenty of other thinkers link this notion to the displacement of any undesirable or unacceptable behaviors) and learn turn them into socially acceptable actions, in the long-term even retraining the initially unacceptable impulse.

While this doesn’t exactly prove my theory about repression and menopause discomforts, it makes me think that perhaps there was something helpful to the drive to be creative as an outlet for rage.

At the same time as I was finding some relief from the rage by refashioning, literally, tearing apart something (in my case an item of clothing), that already existed and turning it into something else (interesting to note that the idea of creating something from scratch does not interest me at all…illustrating the idea that I must destroy something…an « unacceptable social urge » first in order to find comfort…)

 I started to look into other ways to understand my rage. I read up on this, and found an article about menopausal rage, and there it is said, in black and white, that creativity was a way to help.

So let me go even a tad deeper into my own proprietary and unscientific Theory on the Sublimation of Menopausal Rage and Creativity.

A while back, I told you about how I had once taken a bathrobe, the one I wore at the maternity ward when having my first child, and turned it into a cute little blouse. My experience in the maternity ward had been less than stellar, and every time I would see that bathrobe, I would seethe with rage.

When I was working on my bathrobe refashion, I noticed that the act of taking a seam ripper and removing the sleeves was like opening the valve on a pressure cooker. An initial violent plume of anger escaped and suddenly the bathrobe no longer contained the emotional fumes of my rage about the circumstances of my first child’s birth. Suddenly, it was just a piece of beautiful quality striped fabric. It was a beautiful bathrobe to begin with. Tearing it apart made me feel powerful.

Reclaiming power over a situation in which we lost our power is an effective way to deal with rage. Creativity holds the key to redraw the lines of our rage, channeling it into socially acceptable behaviors.

Wow. I just threw a ton at you in one section. Sorry about that.

Let’s recap: even if you aren’t yet peri-menopausal, you can make life easier for future you by tracking your periods and symptoms.

Also, finding outlets for the rage you will inevitably be facing as your hormones start roller coastering is important, because once it starts, you have no idea how long it is going to last. But you have the power to redirect that rage into something beautiful.

Part Three: Mental Hygiene 

I was lecturing my children about flossing the other day. Flossing, as in, dental hygiene, not that weird dance thing.

It started because one of them had been eating a lot of sweets, and he quite cavalierly said, “I brush my teeth before bed. I don’t need to worry about my cavities.“

This raised my hackles. I launched into a diatribe about how it is not enough to just brush your teeth before bed. Eating sweets, or drinking sodas or coffee…these are all bad for our teeth. These can’t just be counteracted by brushing our teeth before bed. Our mouths are healthier when we avoid this kind of thing.

This was news to them, apparently. 

“But you drink coffee, Mama,“ came the reply. “And besides. What would dentists do all day if everyone stopped eating candy?“

Side note: it really stinks when children start making reasoned arguments. Whether or not they are based on false premises, the fact that they are capable of arguing me into a corner for a quick moment makes me nervous for the future.

That was when I explained to them, an argument that I created completely by the seat of my orange petticoat, that there are three important ways that we manage our health:

Prevention, maintenance, repair, blah blah blah…

While I droned on and on, my brain took leave for a few minutes and had a bit of a realization. An epiphany, if you will. I need to practice better Mental Hygiene.

Just like I invest in my Dental Hygiene, I need to invest in my Mental Hygiene.

After I dropped the boys off from school that day, I sat down, opened to a blank page in my notebook, and wrote “Mental Health“ at the top. Then, I divided the page in three, and wrote: Prevention, Maintenance, Repair.

I did a little bit of a mind map, I just let my thoughts freely associate about what this meant to me. I really encourage you to do this as well, because for each of us, it will take on a slightly different focus.

Nonetheless, I want to share with you some of my thoughts.

When it comes to dental hygiene, prevention would be things like NOT eating sweets or drinking too much coffee, avoiding things that would damage my teeth. How is this related to my Mental Health?

What is my Mental Health equivalent of Skittles? My immediate, knee-jerk response was Twitter. Twitter is where I get a lot of my news these days. It is also a place that causes me a huge amount of anxiety, because what I am hearing about in the news is not necessarily always good. 

Not to mention that I am getting emotionally caught up in the success of a candidate for the relatively obscure race in Texas for the Railroad Commissioner seat, and this makes absolutely no sense to anyone that I know or live with, since I don’t live in Texas, have never lived in Texas and have only ever been there once for like twelve hours. (Please vote Luke Warford for TX railroad commissioner.)

After careful consideration, though, I realized that social media in general was my coffee and soda. If I wanted to prevent anxiety, stress or anger and improve my emotional well-being, I needed to use social media more sparingly. 

I didn’t want to entirely disengage…I mean, I like social media. But I did want to take one serious preventative measure to improve my mental hygiene. So I decided that for two hours per day, during the lunchtime hours (ah yes, because remember, here in France, lunch hour lasts two hours)…from twelve to two every day, I would turn off my devices.

Next: Maintenance. What would Mental Hygiene maintenance look like? It would look like making sure I get enough sleep, because I know that for me, bad sleep=bad mental health. It would mean being more considerate about how I make commitments. It would mean developing habits that will help reduce stress and make me feel less crazy—like knowing where I put my keys, my phone, my purse and my shoes.

Maintaining good mental health would also mean engaging in activities that I enjoy, like making music and being creative…hacking that sublimation loop I talked about earlier.

Lastly, what would Mental Health repair look like? 

My first thought was, “Therapy“ and I stick by that. Professional mental health support when you need it is like going to the dentist when your teeth hurt. It shouldn’t have to get to that point, but if it does, there are professionals who can help.

I also think that repair can, in a smaller way, look like taking a day or a morning off to do absolutely nothing. It can also look like re-evaluating our schedule and responsibilities and making decisions that will allow us to be more serene.

In just a few short weeks, we are going to start talking about Curiosity. Curiosity about ourselves is an element to mental health that should not be overlooked. Getting to know ourselves and what is meaningful prevention, maintenance and repair is going to be part of our discussion.

The Ideal Life Exercise

As we do with each of these themes, I ask myself four easy questions about the theme we are covering. 

This is an exercise I do every morning, about just one topic each day. So, this week, we are going to ask those four questions about  Mental Health.

  1. What is working? The fact that my indulgent husband and I sat down the week before school started and planned out our calendar allowed me to start this school year with serenity that I rarely have known before. This totally worked and makes me feel like I am on top of the world. 

What is working for you? Is there an area of stress that you have started to make progress in? Did you take a mental health day? Write that down.

  1. What isn’t working? This could be anything, too. Are you too busy? Are you feeling triggered by the news? You aren’t here to judge yourself for something not working. Just put it into words!
  1. What do I need to think about? How can you repair what isn’t working? Is it an easy fix? Do you need to enlist the help of someone else? 

For context, scheduling and planning has always been an enormous source of stress for me. The fact that my husband sat down with me to plan meant i didn’t have to carry that burden all on my own. So…who can help you deal with your anxiety causing issues?

  1. What can I do today to get me closer to my ideal life? 

This is jut one tiny little thing that you can do, today, to get you closer to your Ideal Life. Start tracking your period, or spend some time being creative. Of all the things you might need to do to work on your Mental Hygiene, do one little thing today.

Conclusion

Your psychological and emotional experience of your life is just as real as your physical experience. Being attentive to your mental health pays dividends in your experience of your life.

No one is asking you to be happy all the time. But learning to prevent negative thoughts from seeping in, building good habits that help pressure to release, and knowing where to go to seek help when our mental health is suffering are three critical elements to mental hygiene.b

Think about mental hygiene as the steps you take to care for future you. 

Through the magic of fairy dust, I can already hear future you thanking you.

 Closing

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!

Show Notes

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene.

Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up.

Links:

The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/
Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/
Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/

You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com.

A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song “La Joie” as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

 Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning

Homework:

On a blank sheet of paper, write the word Mental Health at the top.

Dividing the page into three parts, writing the following words at the top of each section:

  1. Prevention
  2. Maintenance
  3. Repair

When it comes to your Mental Health, think about how you are doing in each of these categories. How are you currently practicing Mental Hygiene? 

Are there any practices you could put in place to help improve your Mental Health? 


Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Episode 31: Mental Health

Show Notes

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene.

Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up.

Links:

The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/

Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/

Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/

You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge

A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song “La Joie” as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Week 37: Like the good schoolgirl I am…

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#14 Mise en Place and weekly planning

My sister Poppy, Queen of Planners, helped me set up a system that really has made all the difference when it comes to know where I need to be when and with whom. Even, what I need to get done in each individual block of time, thanks to space on my planner for individual to-do lists per project, all at-a-glance.

My planner even has a little column for Mise en Place, that life-changing habit of planning ahead what I am going to wear so I don’t stand in front of my closet five minutes before we have to leave, throwing an outfit together and then regretting it all day.

If I want to, I can plan ahead until January (nb: I don’t want to.)

However, I did have two Mise en Place moments that reminded me of why this habit is amazing.

1. One day this week, it was supposed to be warm. So I had planned to wear the comfy but elegant black dress with pockets my father had given me last summer. Short sleeves, pockets….it was perfect for following around two little boys at the zoo (one of them mine, one not mine…their teacher was absent Wednesday morning and I volunteered to take my youngest’s friend with us to the zoo, since both his parents work. Golden Rule, right?)

Long story longer, although the early part of the day was warm, a storm blew through and there was a downpour which dropped the temperature significantly.

Because I had planned ahead for the week, knowing that it would be chilly in the latter part, I had already dug through my winter clothes looking for my leggings and my cardigans for later in the week. I had even already given them a wash, to avoid any risk of moths that might have survived or proliferated in the summer.

So once we got home, I knew exactly where to go to add something warm to my outfit, and I knew what to add because I had already given thought to transitional outfits. Yay me.

2. The 18 month class I am going to be taking starts on Saturday (today, as the bird flies…uh…I mean, as I write! Twenty one years after my college graduation, after as many years sending my indulgent husband back to school every fall, and subsequently my own children, this mama gets her own nervous back-to-school.

So yesterday, I carefully did my back-to-school Mise en Place, like the good school girl that I am. And I got that same nervous energy I used to get every year before the first day of school every time I went into the bathroom and saw my outfit there.

It doesn’t mean I’m going to be a good student. But at least I’ll look fabulous.

#12 Set aside “unplugged” hours of the day

Last week, I gave a first go at something I’m calling “Cinderella Time”. It’s the period between when I pick up the boys for lunch and when I take them back to school for the afternoon. In theory, it’s a approximately 90 minutes.

During those 90 minutes, I’m supposed to turn off my devices and just be Cinderella. Last week, it got me feeling like I was being a pretty good, undistracted, unbusy mom.

This week, I don’t understand how it’s possible, but I got to feeling like the housework expanded to fill every minute of those 90 minutes I had set aside. Nothing was getting done, but everything was getting started.

And yet, everything was still a mess. And I was bored out of my skull because without my devices I couldn’t listen to a podcast or a radio show to keep my mind occupied.

I ended up at the University Library in the afternoon after lunch having only packed my backpack with half of the “mobile office”. I forgot my pen. I forgot my notebook. I forgot my keyboard. Thankfully I had brought a book I have to read for the class I’m taking.

I think that was the worst of the consequences of this ever-expanding quality of the housework. It was that I managed to mess up one of my work blocks because I was overwhelmed before I left.

So yes, probably the forgetfulness is wandering womb related. But still. I drowned in a teapot devoid of electronic devices. I died climbing a molehill of my own making.

What really irks me is the “Everything started, nothing finished, even without distractions?“ thing.

It might be time for a checklist, Lily Fields

#16 Improve my posture

Last week I laughed uproariously at this point. I took that as a warning sign that I might have let this get out of sight for too long.

So during the mornings this week, when I was working at home alone, I wore the little posture brace, the backpack without a backpack, which serves to hold my shoulders back so I don’t slouch.

Uncomfortable? Why yes. Helpful? Oh my goodness, yes.

After just one morning of wearing my brace, I noticed that by the time I got to the library in the afternoon, I was more conscious of sitting straight and was carrying myself more thoughtfully.

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Transcript Episode 30 : Contentment

Introduction

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we get serious about how we invest our emotional energy, so that none of it gets lost or wasted in places it doesn’t belong.

The podcast in which we use one rather common word to represent a different idea, but try to explain why and hope that we can get Cinderella on board with our definition…

The podcast in which we argue that to stop shopping can be the most impactful thing we can do for our happiness.

My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so.

“Now now now, Lily Fields…”

Oh that? That’s you. Cinderella, country bumpkin extraordinaire. You like to show up now and again in the podcast to object to some of the less popular or more confusing things I say. You keep me honest.

“Lily Fields, I can already tell that I am not going to like this episode. You are trying to pull the wool over my eyes, aren’t you? Telling me that one thing means another? Telling me to stop shopping? Who do you think you are?

Well, my dear, as I said a minute ago, I am your fairy godmother. And if we are here together today, it’s because you have a problem.

“How dare you!”

Well…I mean, here you are, you’ve got Prince Charming. You’ve got a home. You’ve got everything you could have ever wanted. You should be happy, shouldn’t you? 

But you’re not, are you?

Don’t give me that look, Cinderella. I have a five year old who rolls his eyes better than you do.

Isn’t it odd that we can have everything we ever wanted, but we still aren’t satisfied with our lives? It’s a kind of no-win situation.

We seem to have this endless capacity to want, and when that want is fulfilled, we want again.

In some ways, it’s a good thing. I mean, it’s not because we have eaten once that we need never eat again. This is by design of course. The survival of the human race depends on our capacity to seek out fulfillment of our needs.

But just as the quantity of things that exist has grown exponentially since the earliest days of human beings, so has our desire to seek those things out and possess them.

Today’s topic is that of Contentment, and I am going to try to argue that in the same way that our views on obtaining food have changed since the earliest humans, from hunting and gathering to fill our bellies to a trip to a reliably full grocery store, we might need to reconsider our relationship to stuff and the accumulation thereof.

Is it a fun topic? No. But I hope to make it palatable. The truth is that it’s really desperately important…for our mental health and for the planet. So I hope you’ll stay tuned to hear what I have to say.

Contentment is just one of nineteen themes we’ve been covering on the podcast. These themes make up the “Ideal Life”, which you can imagine to be circles on a gigantic, beautiful, intricate Venn Diagram that makes up the blueprint for your life.

Each person’s blueprint looks different, because each of us have our own interests, backgrounds, talents, belief systems… But the way those circles overlap are how we are most assured to find joy in our lives. And joy is the currency we trade in here on this podcast.

So grab yourself a cup of tea, darlin’. Let’s talk about contentment.

Getting Started

What is Contentment ?

I know that I’m opening myself up to criticism when I define today’s topic, but I guess…well…it’s worth it to me because this topic is the very heart of why I became interested in pursuing my Ideal Life in the first place.

A rather broad, easy to digest dictionary definition of Contentment is: a state of happiness or well-being. I think we can all agree to that, there’s nothing controversial in that. 

There is certainly something even more feel-good-y about the word Contentment than the word Happiness. 

The word “content“ conjures up an image of a fuzzy little kitten with a full belly snuggling on a lap. Or an old couple watching the ocean hand in hand. 

I think we all might agree to that, too. Contentment, one might argue, is a broader, perhaps calmer version of the more energetic “happiness“. 

But that isn’t going to be my definition of Contentment, either.

I remember, as a child, as a fairy godmother in training, if you will, hearing my mother use the word “content“ to describe people and animals, and since I didn’t know exactly what it meant, I kind of invented a meaning for it. It was a blissful state of plenitude. Having everything I could ever want or need. Being in want of nothing. 

This only stood to highlight that in my life, from my very earliest memories, I have struggled with a very specific kind of problem, and it is one that has severely cut into my experience of Contentment. To be honest, for as long as I can remember, it has been my single greatest source of discontent.

Here it is, confession time, so get ready to clutch your pearls: I always seem to want things that I should not or cannot have.

One of my earliest childhood Christmas memories is of my sister Poppy receiving a Jenny doll (do you remember the Mandy and Jenny dolls?) I can still feel the ache of longing that felt like a low-level electric shock. That doll became all I could think about. Mixed in with my pure admiration and adulation of the beauty of this doll, was a feeling of jealousy. 

Jealousy is a wicked, wicked feeling, isn’t it? Jealousy and admiration turned me into a deranged monster. The two together created a childish experience of self-righteousness that made it obvious to me that I had been wronged and that the doll should be mine.

Whatever gift I had received that Christmas paled in comparison to the beauty of that doll. I could think of nothing else, to the point that my parents eventually took me to the toy store to get my own Jenny doll, just to shut me up.

I should have been happy, right? I was going to get what I wanted. Except that once we got to the store, there was an even more beautiful doll named Mandy, who I fell in love with and suddenly wanted more than anything else in the world. 

So here, somewhere between the ages of three and five years old, I broke one of the Ten Commandments for the first time. Oh, yeah. Because that’s absolutely what I was doing.

There’s an extremely old-fashioned and religious-y sounding word for this problem I have and have had sinceI was a toddler, and that word is “covetous.“ I am a coveter.

I see things I like, that please me for some reason, and I instantly convince myself that those things would make my life better and that I need that thing.

Once I have myself needing that thing, then I start plotting to obtain the thing. (No need to go imagining a kind of Ocean’s Eleven kind of thing here. The objects of my desire are usually mundane. Embarrassingly mundane, even!)

The plotting can be as simple as imagining taking a different road home from where I am in order to stop somewhere to buy…oh, I don’t know. An ice cream scoop shaped like an ice cream cone. (I said it was mundane!)

Or more complicated, like, figuring out how much allowance money I would need to save up to buy that stonewashed denim jacket from K-Mart when I was like 9. 

None of this is wrong, really. I mean, it’s inconvenient to live with this kind of hamster wheel in the back of my mind all the time, but there’s nothing wrong about it. Theoretically, as long as I am not stealing anything, it’s okay, right?

But here is where the cycle gets vicious: the minute. Literally, the minute the object would come into my possession, I would feel buyer’s remorse. There was no honeymoon period. This object was no longer enough. There was no satisfaction.

It would not be long before a new object would take its place on the pedestal and the whole cycle would start again.

I used to call this the “Cycle of Dissatisfaction,“ or “The Cycle of the Imperfect Life“ but I learned a few years ago that there is actually a term in the psychological literature for this phenomenon, and that is “The Hedonic Treadmill.“

I mentioned back in Episode 4, called MacGyvering KonMari, that getting to the heart of my stuff problem was troublesome as long as I kept adding to the stuff in my possession. So…along with doing a mega-decluttering, I also needed to deal with my incessant need to add to my possessions.

And to do this, I needed to figure out how to pursue satisfaction. And that was when I came to define this elusive feeling of satisfaction as “Contentment.“

So, the circle on the Venn Diagram of my life in which I sought to deal with my “stuff“ problem became conflated with my pursuit of Contentment. 

So for the purpose of this podcast, I will use the admittedly rather confusing defintion of Contentment as being “my relationship with my stuff and learning to be satisfied with what I already have.“

I know, I know. I wish it were simpler. But I think you can handle this slightly confusing definition.

Part One: The Ideal Life

Defining our Ideal Life is about measuring the parameters of those circles on our beautiful Venn Diagrams. Determining how opaque they are, and how they fit together with the other circles.

One way to start defining and measuring those circles is by answering this prompt: In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…who what?

I’ve done this for myself in a comprehensive way, but even now, years after I started doing this, sometimes I will add to my In My Ideal Life statements. Life changes require that we stay flexible. In any case, after I did this in a global way, I went in and started categorizing the statements…any statements that seemed to belong together I lumped together, and then analyzed them to determine what it was that made them similar.

That is how I ended up with 19 themes. You might have more than I do, or less than I do. But for the podcast’s purposes, let’s go with the 19 I found.

Here are a few of the statements that rose to the top on the theme of Contentment, AKA: Stuff.

In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:

  • takes care of what she has
  • knows what she likes
  • isn’t swayed by fads or trends
  • Is willing to spend a little more money for something that lasts
  • prefers empty space to the presence of stuff
  • has a wishlist and isn’t afraid to ask for what she really wants
  • can tidy my home for guests in less than 30 minutes because there isn’t stuff that doesn’t have a place to be put away
  • never feels overwhelmed by the mess
  • keeps flat surfaces clear
  • doesn’t buy something just because it’s a good deal
  • keeps a running list of repairs that are needed
  • does not impulse shop

Part Two: Our Stuff and Our Hearts

A lot of what I say is borderline churchy stuff, and I feel like I should apologize for that. I’m in no way qualified to talk about that kind of stuff, and in no way is the purpose of this podcast to convince anyone of anything.

However…there is some really good stuff in the Bible that I feel like doesn’t get enough airtime. Like…you know, all that stuff I go on and on about with the Golden Rule (which honestly, I have been hitting pretty hard the last few weeks. Sorry about that)…the problem being that we can’t love others as we love ourselves if we don’t love ourselves first. 

I tend to fixate on that a little bit, because it seems like there is a whole really important bottom rung missing to the ladder of such a simple edict as “love your neighbor as yourself.“

Sorry, I absolutely promised myself I wouldn’t go off on a tangent about the Golden Rule today, and here I am again. 

But the truth is, I grew up in the church, and so a lot of those teachings got lodged into my heart at some point, and because I have had such a hard time with what seems to me to be a conflicting message between what I see churchy-people doing and what I hear them saying, well, that dissonance grew into some healthy skepticism on my part. 

I get particularly disturbed when I hear churchy people getting on their high horses about things that aren’t even addressed in the Bible, when they haven’t figured out how to live out the most basic things like the Golden Rule. That includes things like telling the truth and being kind. 

I can’t hear people talk when they are being unkind. And I certainly can’t take them seriously if I believe that they are being deceitful. 

I really do believe that there is some good stuff in the Bible that I have spent a lot of my life trying to live out in concrete ways. Not perfectly, obviously. But in ways that feel coherent and true to me so that I don’t feel like a hypocrite. (I mean, maybe I am your run of the mill everyday 9-5 hypocrite, but not a 24/7 hypocrite…)

So, here’s another one of those little gems that I love to take out of context:

Where your treasure is your heart will be too.

I’m pretty sure we’ve brought this up before, too, because it truly is an idea that I find profoundly simple:

Remember how we said that each of us receives three resources during the course of our lives, and those resources  are what we have to make this world a better place? We have said that those three resources are our Time, Talent and our Treasure.

Whatever it is that I spend my money on, or spend time on, or give my talent to, well, that is what I pour my thoughts and my emotional energy into, too.

And while my thoughts and emotional energy are not critical elements of the circulatory system, I like to think that they do make up what I would call colloquially, my heart.

It seems to me, and to my simplistic observational skills, that the more money I spend on something, the more my heart resides with that object. We took the example once of a brand new iPhone plunging towards a toilet. You’ve had that happen once, and you’ll now what I’m talking about.

Or…I don’t think I did tell you this story before, so here goes: For many years, my husband and I parked our car in a public parking lot behind our apartment building. 

There is a large buckeye tree in the middle of that parking lot. We never noticed what had been happening to our car’s roof every fall, until when we were about to trade in our car for a brand new car, and our trade in’s value was being estimated. We discovered then that the roof was pocked with dozens of dents.

I can guarantee you that that very day we rented an indoor parking space for our brand new car, to the tune of 40 bucks a month. Because where our treasure is, our heart will be too.

This goes to show that very often, we have to invest more treasure to keep our treasure safe.

It’s a cycle, like a little tropical depression that picks up speed and starts absorbing everything around it…getting bigger and bigger and more powerful.

I know I sound like I am making a mountain out of a molehill, here. You might object, saying, “but Lily, that’s just the cost of living these days…“

I agree, and I hear you. But I am very very concerned about what has become our dependence on our stuff, and our (my, first and foremost, and our meaning my family’s) evolving needs for things that are snazzy but expensive and take up a ton of space in our hearts.

I’m not advocating for an Amish-like rejection of modern conveniences (although a lot of people who know us think that we are kinda weird in how slow we are to adopt innovations. I mean, we have no microwave, no television, no dishwasher and we just got our first smartphone in 2022.) 

But I am so concerned about Contentment and being satisfied with what I have, and have managed to convince my husband to be concerned about this, too, that we are willing to make do and make sacrifices to live very very simply. 

For us, this manifests in many ways, but two of them are: choosing to live beneath our means (including staying out of debt) and fixing, mending, reusing and wearing out everything we own.

We call these two principles Frugality and Stewardship.

“Stewardship: careful, thoughtful use and maintenance of what we own or that for which we have Responsibility.“

Shh…do you hear that? It sounded like the Philosopher Princess. Oh dear. I hope we don’t wake her up today. Do you remember her? She is the weirdo who likes to talk about virtue and how the pursuit of virtue is the path to happiness. I think she stole that from Artistotle.

Quickly, just so that you can nod politely in case you ever are confronted by her, yes, indeed, frugality and stewardship are two of some 101 virtues she likes to yaw on and on about. Along with things like Generosity, Simplicity,  Kindness, Honesty…

Incidentally. On the point of Generosity? Remember what we said about money and our hearts? Where are treasure is our hearts will be too? Well. Think about that for a second. Being generous with our treasure is an act of investing our heart in something we deem to be worthwhile. 

“Yawn“

All right. I think she has fallen back asleep…

I hope I didn’t offend you, Cinderella, with all this talk about virtue and money and coveting and stuff. I know that it’s awkward, because talking about these things immediately shines light on the hypocrisy of the speaker’s own behavior.

In this case, the speaker is me, and I am not above reproach, by any means. But I want, above all, to be authentic and candid and honest about what I think is a fundamental element to Contentment: learning to be satisfied with what we have.

And that is what we are going to take on in the next segment.

Part Three: You should really stop shopping

So let’s get practical for a second. How can we grow in Contentment? 

For a long time, when it comes to having too much stuff, I would have said that doing a big giant “decluttering festival“ a la Marie Kondo was the way to start. But I find that there is a wealth bias inherent in the admonition to “only keep the things that bring you joy“.

I still adhere to the KonMari method of decluttering, and if you need a quick shot of change, it’s a great place to start. I mean, by reducing the amount of stuff you have, you are reducing the number of places your heart has to be at one time. 

This is clearly a good thing. But the truth of the matter is that not everyone has the financial cushion to know that if they declutter something that “doesn’t bring them joy“ today, but then discover that they actually need that item tomorrow, that they can go out and buy a new one.

Listen. I don’t love my girdle. It brings me no joy. But that isn’t a good enough reason to declutter it. I can’t, and I wouldn’t today go out and spend money on a new one for when I will eventually need it. Did I say girdle? I meant shapewear. Shapewear, girdle. Whatever. Fairy godmother semantics.

So today, I adhere to the practice of keeping items that are useful.

What I have discovered is that decluttering isn’t the only way to reduce the number of objects I own that will ultimately be taking up space in my heart. 

Another way is to put a moratorium on purchases.

For example, in 2021, I made a decision to buy no clothes. Nothing, not even socks or underwear. 

Or, as of this very moment, I am using my computer with ice packs underneath it so that it doesn’t overheat, because the fan doesn’t work anymore. No, it’s not practical, but it is helping me get the last bit of usefulness out of my computer.

A moratorium is a specific time period during which you challenge yourself to make do with what you have. It also could be deciding that you will not replace your smartphone or your computer until a certain date.

Learning to “make do“ calls on Creativity, which is, by the way, one of the circles on the Venn Diagram of our Ideal Life. 

So, should this discussion of Contentment, or your relationship with your stuff be something that has spoken to you a bit, I want to highly recommend that first, before anything else, you stop shopping.

It’s a special kind of personal challenge, to stop shopping. Because we shop for a lot of reasons…out of necessity, yes, but also for myriad other reasons. “I’m stressed out. I’m bored. I just need to pass the time. I’m feeling unloved. I deserve a little treat…“

By setting a personal challenge to stop shopping, you then have to start taking on those reasons differently. You have an opportunity to start questioning the discomfort that you might have been numbing, using shopping as your Novocaine.

It’s not therapy, by any means. And if you need therapy, then please get it. But this is a tiny step to facing some of our internal conflicts.

In my blog I wrote a whole series called “You should really stop shopping.” I will link to it in the show notes, in case you’re interested.

The Ideal Life Exercise

As we do with each of these themes, I ask myself four easy questions about the theme we are covering. 

This is an exercise I do every morning, about just one topic each day. So, this week, we are going to ask those four questions about Contentment .

  1. What is working? For example, I was super mindful about using up the last of the shampoo before opening a new one. I know that sounds like a tiny victory, but it feels really good to use things up. I find that getting the last drop of use out of something increases my experience of Contentment. Maybe it can for you, too.
  2. What isn’t working? Oh, this one is easy. With back-to-school comes the tragi-comedy of everyone dropping their shoes and backpacks at the door and not putting them where they belong. This drives me crazy and shoots my Contentment level about my housing situation into the negatives. 
  3. What do I need to think about? To tackle what isn’t working, maybe I need to think about our habits and routines, and pick better places for these school items to go when we get home. If it’s pissing me off, then I need to do something about it.
  4. What can I do today to get me closer to my ideal life? Oh this one is super easy. I need to declutter our shoe bins and take out all the shoes that don’t fit anyone anymore. That one little project will surely have an impact on my contentment this week.

Conclusion

Listen, I don’t know you very well, Cinderella. But I want to believe that we share a common desire to be happy and satisfied with our lives. 

You deserve to be happy and satisfied with your life, but I don’t think that more stuff is the answer. I would really like to encourage you to re-evaluate your relationship with your stuff.

I’m not over here suggesting that you live the life of a monk, but I do think that living more simply and with less stuff can have a positive impact on your experience of contentment.

Would you be willing to try it? Set yourself a little challenge? Declutter, or stop shopping for a certain period of time?

Being alone with your thoughts, and confronting the urges to accumulate as they arise can be an amazing window onto your mental health.

Try it.

Closing

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!

 A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie (which, by the way, is French for the “Joy” ) as the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

Show Notes

Talking Points: Where do you keep your heart?; The Mandy and Jenny doll tragedy; You should really stop shopping.

Episode 30: is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Contentment.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!

Links:

You Should Really Stop Shopping: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/10/25/you-should-really-stop-shopping-part-one-living-off-the-land/

You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge

You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge

A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.


Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Episode 30: Contentment

Show Notes

Talking Points: Where do you keep your heart?; The Mandy and Jenny doll tragedy; You should really stop shopping.

Episode 30: is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Contentment.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!

Links:

You Should Really Stop Shopping: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/10/25/you-should-really-stop-shopping-part-one-living-off-the-land/

You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge

A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/,  here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

My Own Little Tempest in a Teapot

It’s happening again. That dreadful, awful thought happened last week for the first time in months and I feel like I’m back to square one.

What thought? you may ask, because you are a thoughtful reader who cares that I sound like I am freaking out and because I am freaking out.

”I’m losing my mind.” That thought.

Ugh. I’m fever-pitch-tempest-in-a-teapot-mountain-out-of-a-molehill freaking out.

As a primer, this was happening to me specifically when I was experiencing the painfully embarrassing perimenopausal side effect that I affectionately call ”losing my freaking mind,” as in I cannot find anything I am ever looking for because for some odd reason, I never put it where it belongs.

I lost my keys. I could not, for the life of me, find this one black dress that I needed. I had to use the home phone to call my cell phone because I couldn’t find it. I lost our library card, which I had only used like the week before, but I did eventually find it in the pocket of a jacket I hadn’t worn in months (can someone please explain that one to me?)

It came to a head when yesterday afternoon I was on my way out the door with the big scalawag for a walk so that he could tell me about the storyline for his newest blockbuster movie, when I reached for my keys and they were not in the basket where keys live.

But I just had them this morning!

Panic. Turning of the apartment into set piece from the Poseidon Adventure. (Incidentally, not unrelated to the storyline for my scalawag’s movie idea.)

I called the lady who drove me to church that morning, in case I had left them in her car. Then I realized that my jacket was missing too.

Don’t worry. My jacket was found in the closet where I throw my stuff before I grab a microphone when I sing. My keys were in it. It must have been warm enough when I went to leave that I didn’t give a second thought to reaching in just a half inch further to that closet for my jacket.

But this I only learned once someone who works at church could go check for me this morning.

And I spent at least thirty minutes of my eldest son’s space-themed Poseidon Adventure knock-off thinking, ”I’m losing my freaking mind.”

The Wandering Womb. Again.

I was supposed to, instead of ruminating on my incapacity to remember where things were, say, ”Ahaha! It’s just my wandering womb again.”

That was the deal, Lily Fields.

The idea of the Wandering Womb came from the ancient belief that any kind of woman’s ailment was simply that her uterus was wandering in her abdomen, making her behave strangely. This is a joke, of course, and not true. I mean people used to think it was true. That’s why I can joke about it now.

What it really is is my hormones on a roller coaster giving me the attention span of a goldfish, the skin of an adolescent boy and the neck of a Thanksgiving turkey.

It’s more fun to just say that it’s my wandering womb vagabonding again.

But I used to have techniques for dealing with this. I was supposed to be happily creating habits and routines that help future me.

Which I did do. And now I need a little shot in the arm to take a better look at those habits and routines, and why it is that the ones that I did have are failing me right now.

Singing with My Feet

The rubber needs to hit the road on this. I can’t flutter about as everyone’s favorite Fairy Godmother if I don’t have grace towards myself when my mental health, my hormones and family life create a trifecta of Wicked Stepsisters to attack my magic.

So. I need to give myself a pep talk, Fairy Godmother style:

Hey. Lily Fields. Remember how you always used to say that you can’t start whining about routines until October 1, because everyone needs time to get used to the new schedule each school year? Well guess what. You have another two weeks before you can start complaining. Perk up. You can’t possibly be crazy quite yet.

Also, Lily Fields: everyone in your family has a million places to be and it’s normal that you are a little distracted. You’ve set all your reminders, you’ve checked your calendars. All you need to worry about this week is drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. The rest will take care of itself.

Also, Lily Fields: please take one morning this week and do absolutely nothing with it. Be a lazy bum. Your brain will thank you and your family might too.

Lastly, Lily Fields, please: every single time you put your keys somewhere, say out loud, ”I am putting my keys in the…” Do the same with your phone and your bag. I know the whole mobile office thing stinks, but saying out loud, ”I am putting my keyboard in my backpack” will help you. Just try it.

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Week 36: Shades of Progress

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#4 Complete and update our home binder info

Although this is far from being complete, tiny shades of progress have been made.

I’m depending on the indulgent husband for some of this info, and am trying not to push…but I’ve done what I can and that’s progress.

#12 Set aside “unplugged” hours of the day

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but I’m guessing maybe I just wasn’t ready to make this kind of radical decision.

I decided, during the approximately 80 minutes that my boys are home for lunch on school days, that I would turn off my devices.

I decided to call this “Cinderella Time”, meaning, I turn off the devices, put on an apron, and become Cinderella for 80 minutes each day. No podcasts to distract me, no notifications, no Twitter.

My first full week of Cinderella Time had one exquisite consequence: by the time we left to go back to school, after which I went to the university library to work, all the dishes were washed and put away, the laundry was folded and put away, and freshly washed laundry was hung out to dry.

Before walking out the door, I made sure everyone put their toys away, inciting one of our famous “five minute pickups” during which my boys pretend to be my robots and take things where they belong. (And…FYI…the robot thing was their idea.)

The effect of this was that when the three of us stumbled back in the door at 4:30 after school, everything was tidy, like when you arrive back in a hotel room after room service has passed. It felt amazing (for the five seconds before little boys got everything out again.)

It meant that I could play a board game or two with a little boy after school, because there was space on the floor or on the table. Or get out the poster paints and let the littlest go nuts on a canvas.

So the unexpected consequence of turning off my devices for 80 minutes at lunchtime was feeling closer to my kids and like a better mom after school.

Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of pigs flying.

#16 Improve my posture

Hahahahahaha! Ha hahahahahaha!

This is back on the forefront because since I have been taking refuge at the university library again in the afternoons, my back has been aching like the dickens. It reminds me of when the indulgent husband was in law school, and he got terrible headaches those first few weeks of school from leaning over his text books.

I’m pretty sure my back hurts because I am taking fifty pounds of books and notebooks and electronic devices with me and there is an uphill 10 minute walk to get to the library. This is the price of having a “mobile office.”

So yes, I just need to suck it up and get used to it. Also, I need to pack better. Also, I need to improve my posture.

I switched from an over the shoulder computer bag to a backpack, thinking that I would more evenly distribute the weight (brilliant idea because it does help for that), but the backpack is super uncomfortable and I feel like I am leaning forward like a hiker.

In any case, this made me all the more aware, as I sat in a meeting last night, of how I sit and hold myself. I don’t want to be that person who can’t act normal and sit like a normal person. But I also don’t want to be that person who complains about back pain.

‘Cause those are my choices right now. Be the stuck-up looking person who is actually doing something about her back pain, or be a person who complains about having back pain. I see no middle ground here.

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious

Transcript Episode 29: Commitments

Introduction

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we ask a lot of questions about interesting topics, and even if we don’t find the answers, we learn about ourselves along the way.

The podcast in which we get down to the nuts and bolts of building a satisfying life, and offer doable steps to assembling that life. Kind of like Ikea, only with prettier clothes.

The podcast in which we set aside guilt and duty for a little bit, in order to get down to the heart of why we do what we do.

And most importantly, the podcast in which we seek out joy as the impetus for our actions.

This is Episode 28 of Sing With Your Feet. If you are just joining us, well…welcome! We are so glad you are here. I may say a few things along the way that might require a bit of background, and if I do that, I’ll try to send you back to the appropriate podcast episodes to help fill in the details. But even if you don’t do that, because listening to 28 episodes, that is, about 14 hours of your fairy godmother and your wicked stepsister talk, is quite a commitment, I promise that, even short of investing that much time, there will be something for you in this week’s episode, too.

Speaking of Commitments, that is what we are here to talk about this week. 

Before I get lost on a tangent about fairy dust and magic wands, let’s get started!

Getting Started: 

What is a Commitment? 

Now Lily, don’t be obtuse. 

Oh, that? That’s you, Cinderella. You’ve got your floaty Southern Belle hoopskirt on…A little lace parasol in your hand. You’re absolutely precious. 

We all know what a Commitment is. It’s a pledge. A vow. An oath. A promise.

Yes…that’s true. But the word Commitment is one that tends to get our attention more than…say, Promise does. 

As I see it, a Commitment engages more than just our word, the way a pledge or a vow does. A Commitment engages part of who we are.

If this is true, then what part of us are we putting on the line when we make a Commitment?

To answer that, let’s turn back to something we talked about in depth in Episode 3, called “On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop”, we talked about it a lot then, but it has been one of the most important themes from the early days of the podcast. 

So, to return to our question: what part of our lives are we engaging when we make a commitment? We are engaging one of three categories of resources that we have to offer in this world. 

Each of us has three distinct categories of resources that we bring with us throughout our lives, in varying measures. They are what we have to invest in life: 

  1. Our talents, that is, what we know how to do, 
  2. our treasure, that is our financial resources and 
  3. our time, which is, I have previously argued, the most valuable of all our resources because we don’t have an unlimited supply of it, and we never know exactly how much of it we will have.

So, we could, for purposes of our discussion today, define a commitment as a pledge, vow, oath or promise of our time, talent or treasure.

I mean, we don’t generally say, “I made an oath to go to the movies with my kids.“ However, I might say, “I promised to take my kids to the movies.“ A Commitment doesn’t have to be something life-changing. It just has to be something in which you engage part of your resources by an express decision.

And that bolded text you heard in my voice is what I would like to humbly suggest is what sets an oath or a pledge or a promise apart from a Commitment.

So to be very specific, I would like to define a Commitment as a decision to pledge, vow or promise our time, talent or treasure.

Does it sound like I am being nit-picky here? Well, I am. 

A commitment is a decision. A commitment is a decision to use or engage our principle resources of time, talent or treasure.

In Episode 23, we talked about making wise decisions. I know this is not a particularly popular topic, but I brought it up because I think that decision making is an underrated subject. 

Many of us are blindsided by decisions when they present themselves, and we can really tie ourselves in knots sometimes over them. Examples like, “should I talk to my neighbor about how the noise they make keeps my children from sleeping or do we just live with it?“ Or “who do I want making decisions for me if I become incapacitated?“ these are quality of life considerations that sometimes require us to do the hard thing. 

Practicing decision making skills in non-urgent situations can make this kind of decision making easier. So, yeah, while it’s not popular, I think learning to make decisions is an undervalued skill.

But what I find fascinating is that many of us engage our time, our talent or our treasure without ever making an active, positive decision—we engage our resources without ever committing.

We spend money without thinking it through, then end up unhappy because we’re broke or in debt. We agree to time-consuming activities then end up exhausted and burned out. We invest our know-how and talent into projects and end up feeling resentful and used.

So we end up in situations where we are unhappy with the direction our lives have taken, and yet we never saw ourselves get off course. 

So today, I want to take some time in my hallowed function as your fairy godmother to give you an outline of considerations for when you are faced with a commitment of your three precious resources.

Part One: The Ideal Life

Socially functional, but introverted. (Check)

People pleaser. (Check)

Unable to say “no”. (Check)

These three elements are a recipe for disaster.

For years before I had babies, these three worked together to give me a vibrant, if exhausting, social and professional life. Whether among friends and the activities we did together, or at work, I felt an obligation to always agree to whatever was offered.

This feeling of obligation came from a deeply rooted sense that I didn’t deserve anyone’s kindness, therefore I should vacuum whatever crumbs of attention I could get. Therefore, I let other people arrange my calendar for me. I didn’t know how to say, “I would rather not have five nights of activities in a week…” so I ended up exhausted, overextended and resentful. I would tell myself, “this is just for a season…” but those seasons would extend for months and months and years and I was tired and grumpy all the time.

For some reason, this grumpiness was preferable to learning how to set limits and boundaries and taking control back over my own calendar (that is, taking back ownership of my most valuable resource: my time. ) I felt inexplicably guilty, as if I owed everyone else my time.

We talked about setting healthy boundaries in episode 26, but just to recap, we said that there is a difference between doing something out of guilt and doing something out of duty, but that acting out of guilt is never a good reason to act.

We also said, and I’m sure it will be much to your surprise, that setting healthy boundaries is about the Golden Rule: doing for others what you would want them to do for you and loving your neighbor as yourself.

If you want others to have healthy boundaries, you need to have healthy boundaries yourself.

So the first most important point about Commitments is this: your resources are YOURS. You do not owe them to anyone else. No one has the right to use guilt to extract your resources from you.

Once you accept this, and once you take responsibility for your resources, it then becomes your responsibility to decide how to use them. 

This is where the Ideal Life exercise comes in handy. The first part of the Ideal Life Exercise is to complete this sentence: In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…who what? 

If you haven’t gotten around to answering that prompt in a global way, it would really behoove you to sit down with a paper and pen for a few minutes and start writing out answers. (It would be even better if you were to take ten to fifteen minutes in the morning before anyone else in your home was awake, so that you could be truly alone and can concentrate, but I will make that argument again another day…)

In any case, take some time to think about your Ideal Life and how you interact with Commitments of your time, talent and your treasure.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject:

In My Ideal Life

I am a person who…

  • only commits to things that make her feel alive
  • knows how to say no
  • doesn’t oblige someone else’s folly
  • steps back from responsibility at the right time
  • Understands the seasonality of commitments
  • Knows that she is not a failure, even if she can’t keep to her end of a bargain
  • Is careful with her time and doesn’t over-promise
  • Is generous with her talent and her treasure.
  • doesn’t dread social engagements
  • has her priorities straight
  • Underestimates the commitments of others so that she doesn’t end up disappointed.

Part Two: Why Don’t Commitments Stick?

I have a one word answer to that question: enthusiasm.

I would absolutely love to say that I have some grandiose scientific reason for why commitments are so tough to keep to, but the number one reason that my own life has ended up over-committed and under-delivering, is enthusiasm.

Don’t get me wrong. Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing. It’s refreshing and is at the heart of a lot of good things.

But enthusiasm is illlusory. It’s a flame which, if it only catches on the surface, will burn out immediately at the first wind. Or worse…it’s a flame that can catch a whole dry forest and consume it, leaving huge swaths of destruction in its wake.

That initial flame, if it can ignite purpose, as in, it touches one of the many circles in someone’s Ideal Life, and resonates with their available resources, then there is potential for a commitment that sticks and lasts, and we’ll be talking about this in the third part of today’s episode. 

But for a moment, I want to take the example of what happened to me when I finally was able to drop the commitments I had made purely out of guilt or misplaced enthusiasm, and how that changed my life for the better.

Enter babies

When I had my first baby my mother-in-law asked me if I was bored. What she meant, of course, was that I had always been so active that suddenly being stuck with a baby must have been boring (it was, but not in the way she imagined!)

I wished I could have told her, “oh yes, I am so bored.“ (because, you know, I am a people pleaser who likes to affirm everyone’s assumptions about everything) But the truth was that I was very happy to have a permanent excuse as to why I could not go out every night. I was very happy to not be working where I had been, because at work I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or stop taking on other people’s often unrealistic, borderline abusive, expectations as my own.

Babies were like an escape hatch for me. Babies were how I could, without fear of judgment, step back from responsibilities. Sure…they were their own special kind of commitment. But they also were a very convenient excuse to get out of things I didn’t want to do, and in many cases, never had wanted to do.

Nipping it in the bud

Of course, they didn’t stay tiny babies who needed their mama forever. So it started happening…ever so slowly, that I found myself handing over the reins of my calendar to other people again. I found myself agreeing to go places with my babies because I felt guilty for saying no, all while dreading this, because they were tornados in little boys’ clothing. (Side note, this is still somewhat true.)

And then, miracle of miracles, the great lockdown of 2020.

I was so relieved to not have anywhere to go or anything to do. I was so relieved, you cannot imagine. Because I did not have to go anywhere, I was able to start studying that relief. I realized that there were responsibilities and activities that I was doing that filled me with so much resentment and anger…and yet I would do them simply because I had agreed to do them and was afraid to disappoint others.

I stepped back from my responsibilities. It was hard. But it was such a relief. I put a moratorium on adding any new commitments to my calendar. I started learning to negotiate times and places so as to lessen my apprehension about taking the scalawags anywhere.

As I’ve said before, I have a hard time with boundaries and knowing where I end and other people begin. Learning that if someone loves me, they will be willing to hear me say no, has been one of the greatest, most empowering lessons of my life. Learning to negotiate is scary, but well worth the discomfort.

Healthy skepticism

As a natural enthusiast, it is very hard to want to step back from what ignites a little flame of excitement in my heart. Being somewhat naïve opens me, and others like me, to manipulation. Manipulation can lead to us invest our resources in ways that we don’t want to.

If you are like me, and if you are listening to this podcast because you need a fairy godmother to help you make some magic in your life, then I can only assume that you are, then you need to start developing some healthy skepticism. Maybe even start being a touch cynical. 

All while keeping your magic and your fairy dust intact, start questioning what you do and why you do it. If you are serious about this, you might just want to take your calendar out and start looking at all the items on it. Answer the question: Who am I doing this for? How long have I been doing this? Why did I start?

In this first step to developing healthy skepticism, you aren’t going to change anything. You are simply allowing yourself to be curious. And as we will see later in the season, curiosity is the spice of life.

Part Three: Making Considered Commitments

So, as we saw in part two, there are commitments that we have already made. We have already engaged our resources in them. Let’s, for the sake of today’s episode, leave those in place. We’ll talk about getting out of commitments another time…but we need to put a few other elements in place before we can do that.

For today, let’s talk about how to make a considered commitment.

First, we need to start that healthy skepticism we talked about.

Asking ourselves these three questions about a new commitment will help us see through the veneer of enthusiasm: 1. WHO am I committing to? 2. WHO am I committing FOR? 3. Why?

This should be a rather easy set of questions.

If, for example, you are asked by a teacher to accompany a field trip to the circus for your kid’s class, the answer to the first question, who are you committing to is the teacher. 

The second question, logically, should be “for my kid.“ Or maybe even, “For me.” 

And the why? Because they need someone to accompany the class. Or, even better, “because I want to go to the circus.” 

However, there can be a million little details that alter our answer to that last question.

Let’s say, for example, you don’t really have the bandwidth or the availability to take time off for a field trip, but other parents have been doing it and you feel guilty because you haven’t gotten around to it yet.

So your answer as to why is going to be uncomfortable. And in that case, you need to consider that perhaps, even though on the surface, this seems like an easy commitment, your reasoning is not healthy. Guilt is never a reason to do something. It will build resentment. 

If you find that guilt is driving your decision, then start searching around for other, more sustainable and joy-bringing reasons. I find that snooping on my kids is a very good reason to agree to this kind of thing, but that is just me!

This example is just a short-term, one-off commitment. 

But what about something that is long term, or is going to require significant output of resources for your?

First, I want to suggest that you look very carefully at which of your three resources is being asked of you: your time, your talent or your treasure, or maybe a bit of all three.

It’s important to not just listen to the enthusiasm that is swelling in crescendo around you…Here’s a recent example from my own life: “Can you come direct this choir at the senior center? It will only be an hour a week!”

Sure…it sounds great. But you and I both know that it isn’t just an hour a week. It’s about choosing repertoire, about making photocopies, organizing a recital and transportation.

Here, it is both my talent and time that is being requested. It’s an honorable endeavor. But I can honestly say that it is not one I am willing to invest…most importantly, my time into right now.

Any guilt I feel about saying no is because I like the idea of seniors having an opportunity to sing, because I hope that when I get old, someone will provide me an opportunity to sing. And here, I’m a bit in conflict with the Golden Rule, which tells me I should do for others what I want others to do for me.

This is where we need to look at the second element: Which circles of the Venn Diagram of my Ideal Life (also known as, which of the 19 Ideal Life Themes, like, Marriage, parenting, body positivity and health, passions, commitments, spiritual life…) does this potential commitment impact, and how does this commitment get me closer to my Ideal Life in that area.

Ideally, a well-thought out commitment will be at the juncture of multiple circles on the Venn Diagram of your Ideal Life. In my “being a chaperone to the circus” example, there were three circles overlapping: Parenting (my relationship with my kids), Relationships, (that is with other parents and the teacher, with whom developing an open, comfortable line of communication is critically important to me), and Passions (that is, my inexplicable love of all things circus and acrobatics.) 

When it comes to volunteering to take on the choir at the local retirement home, the only circle it really impacts is my passion for vocal music. This might be different if it were my mother singing in the choir. Or if I were taking it on with a friend and we took it on together. 

What is for darn sure is that when only one circle of our Venn Diagram is engaged in a commitment, then when we start to get tired, or start to doubt, we don’t have any other impetus to fall back on. We can quickly come to dread the commitment, because it isn’t making resonance between multiple parts of our ideal life.

Dread is a feeling that often accompanies Commitment. I would like to argue that dread is a result of making ill-considered engagements, and engagements that do not involve multiple circles of our Ideal Lives. Not to say that physical fatigue and being socially awkward don’t play into the feeling of dread. But when multiple parts of our lives are being activated in a decision, and there is some joy to be found in the overlap, then dread becomes easier to overcome.

This is a lot of work, I’ll grant you that. But not feeling dread every time you look at your calendar, or hear your phone ring or check your emails is its own kind of reward.

Did that make sense? I hope it did. We’ll come back to all this in future episodes, when we talk about how to gracefully end a commitment and the seasonality of commitments. But we have to talk about curiosity first, and that’s coming up in a few months.

If I were to condense all of these suggestions into one little blue pill to take to make your life better, it would be, please, please, please, think before you agree to anything. Just take some time before you say yes.

The Ideal Life Exercise

All right, so as always, I like to ask myself four easy questions about the different theme we are covering. It’s an exercise I do every morning, about just one topic each day. So, this week, we are going to ask those four questions about Commitments.

  1. What is working? Although it sounds so small, the answer could simply be, ‘I said no when asked to do something I didn’t want to do…” Or, “I just wasn’t feeling it, so I cancelled my plans.” Or, “I didn’t say yes right away, but gave myself some time to think about it.” Or, it could be something bigger. I carefully committed to an 18 month training program after considering how I was going to keep myself motivated.
  1. What isn’t working? This, for much of my life, was the dread I inevitably felt leading up to a social engagement. It could even be with a person I love to spend time with…the minute something is on my calendar I started dreading it. I am getting better at discerning if this is because I am just being an introverted looney, or if there is something more sinister at work. But yeah. Dread typically means something isn’t working. Or..coming back to that idea of “seasonality of commitments…” have you been doing something for years and years and you are sensing that it is time to bow out? This deserves your attention.
  1. What do I need to think about? This question leads us to examine what is working and what isn’t working, and to dig in a little bit. It’s also a worthwhile time to think about those commitments you’ve been putting off making.
  1. What can I do today to get me closer to my ideal life? This is just one tiny little thing. One phone call you can make. One letter you need to send. One SMS declining an invitation. Just do one tiny little thing.

Conclusion

You have so much to offer this world. That’s why I like you so much. You have all these little silvery threads, woven together in an unimaginably beautiful pattern that is uniquely yours: those silvery threads are your time, your talent, your treasures. They are all the weird, random things that bring you joy and geek you out.

When you commit to anything without carefully considering it, you are putting that treasure at risk. You might be misusing your time, or letting a talent tarnish. 

The more you align the way you use your time, talent and treasure with what brings you joy, the greater the impact you will have. You were born for a purpose, you exist for a reason, and as your fairy godmother, I might be the only person who believes this for you, but I do. I believe it with all my heart. 

So please. Think before you commit. Find your reasons how your commitment fits into your Ideal Life. Let nothing go to waste.

Let me just remind you, around here, as long as I have breath in my lungs as your fairy godmother, Joy is our Fairy Dust. I want you to live a life full of joy.

 Closing

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!

 A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie (which, by the way, is French for the “Joy” ) as the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

 Show Notes

Talking Points: Enthusiasm and healthy skepticism as tools for making commitments that stick; breaking down the commitment making progress so that you won’t dread them in the future.

Episode 29: is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Commitments.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!

Links:

As promised in the episode, here is a link to Lily’s YouTube channel. Sharing podcast episodes can be complicated, but you all are pretty good at sharing videos. So if someone you know and love could use a fairy godmother, you can share the podcast via YouTube, too!

You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge

Episode 31: Mental Health Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Rage; Sublimation; Mental Hygiene. Episode 31: Mental Health is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories. The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up. Links: The Great Bathrobe Refashion: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/18/the-great-2021-bathrobe-refashion/ Rage Refashioning: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/27/rage-refashioning/ Sublimation: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/06/09/sublimation/ You can contact Lily by email: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com. A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song "La Joie" as the intro and outtro to the show. Thanks also to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 31: Mental Health
  2. Episode 30: Contentment
  3. Episode 29: Commitments
  4. Episode 28: Lucidly Ever After
  5. Episode 27: Passionately Curious