Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we look at how we channel our curiosity about the world, and plan for a time when we can get lost down a rabbit hole.
The podcast in which what is irritating us becomes a springboard for meaningful action.
The podcast in which we see that how we care for ourselves is going to impact how we feel about our lives…and we give ourselves an action plan to take better care of ourselves.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so.
This episode is part three of a four week series about the Idea Life Exercise. We’ve talked in the last two episodes about the first two questions that make up the Exercise: What is working? and What isn’t working?
This week’s question is deceptively simple: What do I need to think about? It is when we start developing an action plan…even if that action plan ends up being just one tiny little thing that we will do (which is what we’ll talk about next week).
But we start by taking a few minutes to think.
I don’t want to insult your intelligence, Cinderella. I know you know how to think. You are a problem-solver extraordinaire. You prioritize like a boss-girl. You keep your life in ship-shape.
But let’s have this conversation anyway. The worst thing that can happen is that you will realize just how much of a boss you are. The best thing that can happen is that maybe you will come away with some tools for self-reflection that will help you channel your efforts into a helpful action plan.
Not too long ago, I was reading a book which cited a filmmaker whose specialty is filming sharks for nature documentaries, and of course, gained prominence during the cultural phenomenon that is Shark Week.
What do sharks have to do with anything, Lily Fields?
Well, that’s a fantastic question, and is the same one I asked myself while I was reading a book ostensibly about the psychological origins of unwanted sexual behaviors in individuals. (Sounds like loads of fun, huh?)
How exactly does this filmmaker manage to get such intimate footage of sharks without any protection or cages, without getting eaten or at the very least, attacked?
The answer was fascinating: According to the filmmaker, sharks attack prey. (Obviously). But how does it know that something is prey? I mean, we all know about the blood in the water thing. But a shark recognizes a prey because a prey will swim away from the shark as fast as it can.
The natural instinct of prey is to flee from a predator. It’s about self-preservation, right? This flight reaction awakens the predator instinct in the shark. (I may have just explained that in a way that sounds like victim blaming, which is not what I mean to do.)
So, with nerves of steel, this filmmaker takes his camera swims towards the shark. And the shark, who doesn’t have any experience with something swimming towards it, doesn’t attack, but lets itself be approached. It’s predatory instinct is disarmed by curiosity as to what this thing is that is not prey.
That’s how the filmmaker manages to get this fascinating, close-up, never before seen footage of the shark.
This week’s episode is going to help us do that with what’s going on in our lives to trip us up…whether the shark we have previously been trying to flee is a habit of time-wasting down internet rabbit holes, or irritations both major and minor that really make us nuts, or simply a sense of boredom with our lives…
With our theme this week, we are setting aside a few minutes each day to swim towards the shark to gain some understanding about our lives: head on.
Part One: Isn’t that interesting?
The first two questions, what is working? and what isn’t working? help us to take a step back and be an impartial observer of our lives. I’m not saying that there isn’t any emotion in the process…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: having a Kleenex box handy is useful during these few minutes you spend on your Ideal Life Exercise, because lucidity sometimes comes at the cost of a few tears.
This third question, what do I need to think about?, is a wide open discussion question.
I think I might have told you this before, but instead of using a paper notebook for my Ideal Life Exercise, I actually use a journaling app on my tablet. It’s not intended for how I use it, but I was able to create a template with the four questions, and I can create entries in advance.
This is a useful piece of information for what I am going to say next:
I am exactly like you. I get lost on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest just like you do. I have, on more than one occasion, gotten to, what I can only hope, is the farthest end of the internet.
By the time I realize how lost I am, that shark is already devouring me. I’ve wasted a perfectly good thirty minutes looking at orange evening gowns on Pinterest, or reading inspiration relationship quotes on Instagram.
I’ve gotten much, much better at avoiding this time wasting trap, and here’s how: the minute I find something interesting, but I sense that it is going to send me down a rabbit hole, I ask myself which theme of my Ideal Life this little snippet of information addresses.
One time, it was an article about how the different phases of our monthly cycles impact our efficiency at work. One time, it was a rabbit hole about Gravitas and what the elements of it are (don’t ask how the orange evening gowns are related. They just…are). Another time it was an Instagram post about free-range parenting. Or about self-care.
I know perfectly well that I don’t have the time to read the whole article or to think about it right then, and if I took the time I would be mad at myself for not getting the stuff I really needed to get done, done. But I know that I have one day every three weeks in which I have set aside ten minutes to actually think about this.
So I either screenshot the piece of information or the post, or I copy a link to the article. From there, I go into my journaling app, and I paste the information into the entry for the Ideal Life theme on the next day it is going to come up.
It requires a little bit of self-discipline, but let me admit something to you: there is nothing quite like the sense of satisfaction I get when I can tell myself, “Yes, Lily, this is very interesting, but right now isn’t the time.” It’s a little bit like…well, it’s like I’m parenting myself. Or maybe like I’m being my own fairy godmother.
When I can do that, and then set myself up with a time that I will be allowed to get lost on the subject…I’m actually quite proud of myself. I can give myself a little head-pat and get on with my day.
We’ve said this before, but our time is our most precious resource. We don’t get a minute of it back once we’ve wasted it. So actively redirecting, in the moment, how we use our time, means that we are investing our resources wisely. No one else can use our time for us. It is up to us to organize it. We are adults now. Our time is our responsibility.
By setting aside those few minutes to do your Ideal Life Exercise in the morning, you are making good use of your time. It is a date you set with yourself to catch up on some thoughts you’ve been having, or to actually follow an idea down an internet rabbit hole. By channeling your energies in this into a time in the relatively near future, (in my case, in the next three weeks), I am avoiding wasting my time now, with the promise of allowing myself the pleasure of hunting down these thoughts in the future.
Nowadays we have access to so much information. Granted, and I think I’ve already told you this, but as a child, I used to sit in our basement with our shelves of the Encyclopedia Britannica and thumb through it, getting lost as I read about weird and wonderful oddities in the world. I did the same when I was gifted my first encyclopedic dictionary in French. I know I’m a weirdo.
I tell you this, not because I like to admit that I’m a freak, but because I want you to know that this “getting lost down the rabbit hole” is something that I have been fighting for a very, very long time. When the internet arrived when I was in college, and that dangerous dangerous dangerous thing that is a hypertext link…or as I call it, the portal to the end of the universe…there was no end to my capacity to be curious and waste every waking minute.
Then came social media. I think my only saving grace was that I didn’t have a smartphone until literally this January. My self-control issues when it comes to the pursuit of information would have been a death knell if I hadn’t started telling myself what to do!
It wasn’t until I started scheduling time to pursue my geekery with my Ideal Life Exercise, and specifically, this third question, that I have gotten a handle on my time-wasting habits.
Now, when I find something that inspires even a tiny bit of curiosity, I say to myself, and sometimes even out loud, “Why, now, isn’t that interesting. Let’s schedule some time to think about this.”
There is a caveat to this rule, and it’s one that is hard to gauge as you start to tumble down the rabbit hole. I call it the “Thirty Second Google exception.”
I mean, I am the person at the grocery store googling random facts about Elvis because “Suspicious Minds” is playing on the radio, and I am the person who looks up the lyrics to 90s rock songs because suddenly when I think about them, they don’t make sense anymore. (Case in point, the song Two Princes by the Spin Doctors. Don’t get me started.)
My rule on this is firm: if it will take less than thirty seconds to scratch the itch, then I can do it. But then it has to be done. Phone put away. Internet browser closed.
All of this to say: When I sit down to work on my Ideal Life Exercise for any given theme in the morning, I will sometimes already have a few things to think about, because I have scheduled them ahead of time. I’ll be honest, quite often, by the time I get to the link or the screenshot, I’m not even terribly interested in it anymore. I mean, orange even gowns? Come on! But I’m glad that I scheduled that time, and glad I didn’t waste my time on it when I first found it.
It also happens, though, that I am really, really glad I set aside some time to actually think about this topic, rather than just quickly trying to get the basic idea while standing outside the bathroom at the Conservatory waiting for my boys to finish up washing their hands before class.
Setting aside this time to really look deeply into something that might inform how I pursue my Ideal Life gives me a sense of progress, and it means I am taking myself and my interests seriously. And that is always something to celebrate.
Part Two: What’s pissing me off?
A second consideration, if I don’t have any previously scheduled thinking to do, is to ask myself the question, “What is pissing me off right now?”
This may or may not be related to question two, which is…anyone? Anyone? That’s right, what isn’t working?
This question relates back to earlier this year, when we talked about the little rocks in our shoes: those little things that are bothering us that we simply never bother to take the time to address.
I believe that I have often taken the example of not being able to find my keys, or losing my glasses (which are surprisingly difficult to find when they are not on my face!) This is a tiny little rock in my shoe that relates to several areas in my Ideal Life: my mental health (because there is nothing that makes me feel more crazy than not being able to find my keys), my “stuff”, or as I like to call it, “Contentment”, or the theme of keeping a clean house, or the theme of habits and routines.
When I ask myself, what do I need to think about, and can ask myself, honestly, what is pissing me off? Then I can start finding ways to address it. Depending on the theme I am looking at on any given day, I can look at what is pissing me off through that lens.
For example, I am irritated because for two days in a row I have managed to misplace my glasses, leaving them in random places. Keeping in mind, in my Ideal Life, I am a person who has a designated home for important items, and can find everything she is looking for. Let’s imagine that today, my theme is habits and routines.
So I can ask myself: is there a habit or a routine that will help me stop putting my glasses in random places where I won’t find them? (Yes, believe it or not, I have considered getting a glasses chain, but…I guess I’m holding out a few more years on this one. I just can’t. I just…ugh. I can’t.)
Or what if my theme is Body Positivity and Health. I can ask myself: why is it that I need to keep taking off my glasses? Is it because I can’t see well enough with them, and maybe I need to schedule a visit with the eye doctor?
Or what if my theme is Contentment—aka my stuff. I can ask myself, “why do you have a second pair of glasses if you literally don’t know where you put them, my dear?” And then maybe figure out where that rescue pair is currently residing.
You see, these are little annoyances we might never take the time to actually address if we don’t schedule the time with ourselves to think about it.
I am of the firm belief that if something pisses me off, I need to do something about it. This is as true of the tread marks on the wall in the hallway of my apartment building, whether or not they are our fault, as it is when someone leaves trash on the sidewalk. If it pisses me off, then I need to do something about it.
It’s not enough to just get mad or annoyed. I have always believed in channeling irritation into action. Being part of the solution is a way to help the cycle of anger complete itself. If it’s not something that I’m willing to do something about, then it isn’t something worth getting pissed off about.
So, this question, about what is the rock in my shoe right this instant, is one that will, often lead us to the fourth question, which is, spoiler alert, what one small thing can I do today to get me closer to my Ideal Life.
When you look at what is irritating you as an opportunity to take one small action to get closer to being the person you want to be in your Ideal Life, you are already making progress. But you have to start by taking apart what is making you feel like you’re going to pull your hair out, and examining it for what in it is something that is within your power to impact.
The things that piss you off can be a springboard to meaningful progress.
Part Three: Am I taking care of myself?
So, let’s imagine that you have already answered the first two questions, and as we evoked last week, that nothing in particular is working, but nothing in particular isn’t working, either.
This happens. It so happens, also, that you haven’t already put something on your schedule to think about on this topic, and you don’t have any particular rock in your shoe, either.
This happens, too. This isn’t necessarily anything to be worried about. Sometimes, things are just chugging along without need for our intervention.
On the other hand, if it happens twice in a row, it’s worth looking closer. We said last week that emotional numbness can be an early mental health warning sign.
I’m not a mental health professional, but I am someone who has experienced post-partum depression. Long-term emotional numbness is not normal, and it gets in the way of living any kind of life, Ideal or not.
When nothing is working, but nothing isn’t working…and nothing is irritating me, but nothing is interesting to me either…and this happens… I always ask myself, “Am I taking care of myself?”
Am I getting enough sleep? (often the answer is no.) Am I drinking enough water? (Also often a no.) Am I eating healthy? (hah. Usually not.) Am I getting enough exercise? Are my monthly cycles regular?
These baseline questions, if answered honestly, can also give us some insight to what is going on.
I don’t know about you, but when I don’t get enough sleep, or if I am simply not sleeping well, I become someone that I do not like. My family gets the brunt of this, because I will have a short fuse, and often without cause. I just snap at them. Obviously, this impacts my Marriage and my Parenting circles of my Ideal Life, but also my Mental Health, and leaves me with zero Gravitas.
Not getting enough sleep leaves me unable to face my Commitments with joy, and it means that my work is less efficient.
Getting enough sleep is the numero uno critical element to living the Ideal Life. We cannot live our Ideal Life when we are exhausted. It just can’t happen. So if you’re feeling numb and uninspired, I want you to take a very careful look at your sleep habits.
That second basic need–hydration? You know, years and years ago, I worked at Walt Disney World in Florida.
I lead a tour at Epcot called the Undiscovered Futureworld Tour. It was the ultimate Disney geekery tour, and I took guests around Epcot and talking about Walt’s vision for utopia, or as he called it, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
The people who took this tour were nothing but the geekiest of the geeks, the Disney dorks, the people who lived and breathed Disney trivia. These were my people…
We met before 7:00AM, so that they could experience Epcot the way Walt imagined it: the futuristic vision of what the 2000s would look like, back when he was imagining it in the 1970s.
If you have been to Florida, you know what it is like. It is…hot. And it doesn’t wait for noon to get hot. It is hot as early as 7:00AM. So, here we were, traipsing miles around the park, going into absolute minute detail about every single material, every angle, every thought that went into the place. And we were talking. And geeking each other out. It was an absolute adrenaline rush.
By the time we said goodbye, it would be noon. And I would manage…just barely…to get home before the crash happened, whereupon I would pass out…literally…on the couch for the rest of the day and would wake up with a pounding headache.
This happened every. Single. Time. I did the Underdiscovered Futureworld Tour. I vaguely remember my husband saying, “If that tour makes you feel this way, you should stop doing it.” But I loved giving that tour.
One time, when we were at a fair at Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando, my husband was given a bottle of Gatorade as a freebie. He didn’t drink it, but he threw it into my bag as I was leaving for work one day.
I found it on my way home and drank it in the car. And that day, I didn’t pass out. As a matter of fact, I felt great.
It was the most intense “duh” moment of my entire life: I was passing out because I was dehydrated. I know just how dumb I am making myself sound, but listen: I grew up in Northeastern Ohio. I had no concept of what the heat could do to my body. So this was literally the first time in my life that I had experienced dehydration.
Since then, I have been very, very serious about making sure that I am drinking enough water. It seems like such a small thing, but in the heat of the action, I didn’t realize what was happening, and adrenaline and excitement can trick us into thinking we are fine, when in fact, we are not.
Staying hydrated, as simple as this sounds, sometimes requires an action plan. Whether it is a little timer reminding you to drink every hour, or having strategically placed bottles, or whatever works for you. But don’t wait until you feel thirsty.
Eating healthy, eating balanced meals can play a big important role in how you feel about yourself. Nutrition, we know, is critical to helping children grow. It isn’t less important to our health as we get older.
When I can point to my bad eating habits as one of the reasons why things aren’t going as well as I would like, I can start looking to build habits of meal planning and or getting creative about eating better.
I also, as you know, am a binge eater, and this can be triggered by, among many other things: boredom. Emotional numbness and boredom are cut out of the same cloth, and one can impact the other. Being attentive to when the answers to the questions What is working and what isn’t working are both, well, nothing, I will nearly always be able to trace a direct line to a bingeing episode. This is for me, and for you this might not at all speak to you. It might not be bingeing for you…it might be something else.
But being able to recognize how these elements fit together, for me, in my life, has brought me a sense of agency. I can recognize that the urge to binge is about having control over something, and that in that moment, I really need control.
It doesn’t always stop me, but it gives me greater compassion for myself, and I am sometimes able to take a less judgy-harsh tone with myself. Having a little perspective helps me talk to myself the way I might with a friend who is going through a hard time, rather than attack myself for my inability to quash my impulses to overeat.
We have all heard how exercise is supposed to be a mood elevator. I saw a funny tweet the other day that said, “I regret to inform you that regular exercise has, in fact, improved my mood.”
It’s hard to schedule, it’s hard to prioritize ourselves for this. But love it or hate, it really can impact our outlook. It’s such a simple thing. It’s worth trying.
I’m going to take my indulgent husband as an example for this, because for him, getting out to run in the early morning really does make him feel alive. When he starts to get overwhelmed with life and papers to grade and the scalawags, the first thing he drops from his daily routine is his morning run.
And it is the first thing he will complain about lacking. It helps ground him, and I can always tell he’s having trouble keeping his workload and family load balanced when he starts missing his run.
When he does get back into the habit, he is almost instantly more balanced. For him, it is a magical 45 minutes in the morning that means everything.
And lastly, without dwelling on it too, too long, our monthly cycles are unique to each of us, but there are, within our unique cycles, patterns to be found. Digging in and tracking our cycles can help us to examine when we are feeling a little numb or disinterested, and see if it isn’t maybe a moment in our monthly cycle where we are simply less motivated. This happens, too, and it isn’t something to get up in arms about. If anything, it’s something to receive with open arms.
Knowing our own bodies and our monthly cycles can provide insight into a lack of motivation.
It’s worth it to keep an eye on it…for this reason, and for the myriad other reasons I have gone on and on about over the last few months!
Self-reflection isn’t something we were taught to do at school. It’s something most of us don’t take the time to do, because…well…life often gets in the way.
But setting aside a few minutes each day to be curious about ourselves and our thoughts and our motivations, and actually taking time to think is going to have an impact on how we feel about ourselves.
These few minutes each day when we become the object of our own study is when we get to know ourselves better–and knowing ourselves is the first step to falling in love with ourselves.
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 as the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember: it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: I need to think! Escaping from the rabbit holes; how what is pissing you off can help you make progress; how ignoring our basic needs can lead to stagnation.
If you have a question about the Ideal Life Exercise, drop Lily a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Talking Points: I need to think! Escaping from the rabbit holes; how what is pissing you off can help you make progress; how ignoring our basic needs can lead to stagnation.
- What are the rabbit holes that zap your energy and your attention? Instagram? Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? Imagine what it would look like to become more disciplined in your media use.
- Think about a time when you successfully found a solution to a problem that was driving you nuts. Did it require an investment of time? Of money? Allow yourself to imagine investing in solutions to the little things that are irritating yourself right now. How would your life be better if those irritations were gone?
- Honest question: Are you taking care of yourself? What small tweak could you make–setting a bedtime? Drinking more water? Eating more vegetables? Getting outside more often?–that could taking better care of yourself make your life better?