The Science of Giving Up

Why is it so easy to give up?  This past weekend, I was feeling VERY strongly about taking care of myself, trying something new, and doing a series of 30 day challenges to improve my life.  My first 30 day challenge has been practicing yoga.  I am not flexible, my body hurts from a desk job and lugging around toddlers, and I could really use the quiet mindfulness that yoga is supposed to provide.  Last night, I wasn’t really “in the mood”, but I’m holding myself accountable to really giving this a shot, so I pushed through.  It’s hard for me, but my husband did it with me and our dogs were all over us and it was fun and we laughed and we felt better after.  So why did my brain go to such a dark place later while I was in bed?  My inner voice was saying things like, “Ugh, I just don’t feel like doing it,” and, “I already don’t feel like doing yoga again tomorrow.”  That’s crazy!  I stopped myself and thought, it’s a whole day away!  You don’t know how you’re going to feel tomorrow!  Maybe you won’t be so tired and cranky and you’ll WANT to do some stretching.  And really, if tonight was so hard, you can just pick an easier yoga video that will be more relaxing!
First, I don’t know if it’s the yoga, but I’m really glad I stopped the negative thoughts and gave myself a good talking-to, which I’m not normally great at doing.  And second, I really want to understand why it’s so easy for me and others to just quit.  We start diets and exercise routines and online classes and blogs – and then just give up on them.  Why?

So I spent some time researching today and found a few interesting things I wanted to share with you.  Apparently, there are two kinds of “quitters” – those who give up right away, and those who take longer to give up, but still quit eventually.  I believe that I fall into both categories, depending on the subject and what’s going on in my life at the moment.  With the yoga, I was definitely ready to quit last night, and it was only DAY FOUR!  And yet, there have been other times where I’ve stuck to an exercise routine for many months, I completed 4 years of college, I’ve had a veggie garden to maintain for 3 years now, etc.  Perhaps I’m more passionate about certain things and my life at the time is more conducive to completing my goals.

Scientists and psychologists talk about “ego depletion”, which basically means that people have a limited amount of self-control and willpower and it is reduced every time we exert that self control or willpower.  A perceived lack of time also has a big impact on our staying power.  Self improvement projects seem to get hit the hardest, but there is hope.  An improvement in day-to-day focus and an emphasis on the incentive for that project can really help.

Regarding focus, people who can sustain focus in day-to-day life are more likely to maintain perseverance and passion in their long-term goals.  I notice that the more balls I am juggling, the less focus I have, so it helps me when I simplify my life and responsibilities as much as possible.  Mindfulness training exercises, such as meditation, can really help, so I guess it’s really fortuitous that I chose yoga as my first 30 day challenge.

Also, your incentive matters.  People with real “grit” tend to have a purpose beyond “self”.  Grittiness is a personality trait involving sustained interest and effort toward long-term goals.  Grit is also a good predictor of success in career and education, independent of other traits, including intelligence.  Grit is really just interest, practice, purpose and hope.  That sounds simple, but I think an awareness is needed in order to succeed – so often, our lives are so filled with to-do-lists and just basic functioning that we are not aware of how every day matters and how many opportunities we have each day to focus on a long-term goal.

Ultimately, self-reflection is imperative.  I’m sure there are hundreds of reasons why, but I’ve noticed in my life that people seem to be a lot less self-reflective than they used to be, including myself.  Self-reflection is really hard – you have to find the quiet time to think, you have to be honest with yourself, and you have to dig deeper into your long-held beliefs and habits.  Not only is that hard, but it is also very scary.  I’m glad I took a moment last night to stop my negative thoughts, reflect on them, try to understand why I had them, and then create a game-plan for myself.  And that plan is to continue my yoga challenge because if I take care of myself, I will be a better mother, wife, family member and friend.  I love the people in my life so much, so if I can really visualize how this self-care will make me a better person for them, I think I can stick with it.  Although, being a better person for myself isn’t exactly a lame incentive either.  Namaste bitches!

Thankful for my Husband

Happy Thanksgiving!  This is my favorite holiday because it has all the wonderful traits of Christmas without the stress of gifts.  It’s food and family and love.

Becoming a parent has made me a bit sappy.  I have email accounts set up for my babies and I’m using them as “time capsules”, sending them messages of love when the moment strikes.  I’ve already written to them this week to tell them how grateful I am to have them in my life, and now this note is for my husband.

My husband is not perfect.  There are plenty of times when he’s not a “good husband”.  But he is always a phenomenal father.  And I had not expected that.  For the 10-plus years we have been together, I have always felt like the catalyst for change.  I pushed for an engagement after dating for 5 years, then I pushed for the actual wedding 3 years later, then I REALLY pushed for children the year after that.  I literally told him that I was quitting my birth control, so if he really had a problem with that, he would be in charge of the “protection” going forward.  Almost 2 years later, we were finally pregnant.

He was supportive throughout the pregnancy and more than I expected during delivery (because aren’t all dudes useless in the delivery room?  Not my hubby!).  He was in love with our daughter immediately.  I even had to mediate an argument between him and my mother in the first month because of his devotion – she claimed he was not allowing her enough one-on-one time with our daughter; he felt she barreled her way into everything and was trying to push him out whenever she was around.  He is our daughter’s protector and best friend and he has been since the beginning.

Then we unexpectedly became pregnant again 3 months later.  We both freaked out, but it may have been a bit harder for him.  This man takes YEARS to make such life-altering decisions.  But we fell in love with that new life, just like we had before.  My son’s delivery was harder, but my husband was there.  Having two very young babies in the house, always waking us up, always sick, always needing something, was hard, but my husband was there.

People who don’t even know us particularly well take notice of the bond my husband has with our children.  He gets down to their level, he is affectionate, he plays with them, and he shares our duties as parents like a champ.  

My son has been sick all week, either with the flu or some other nasty, ass-kicking virus.  My husband came with us to the doctor.  He rocked and cuddled our son as he shook from chills due to a rediculously high fever.  His heart breaks, just like mine, to see our son suffering, even from something like the flu.  And to have a true partner this week has been such a blessing.

For a guy who didn’t really love the idea of having kids, I am in awe at how amazing he is as their father.  Our adult romantic love is sometimes complicated and messy, but his love for our children is so pure and beautiful.  For that, I am grateful.

“Mommy, stop working!”

Guilt.  The ultimate theme of parenthood.  If you’re a working parent, there’s guilt about not spending enough time with the kids.  If you’re a stay at home parent, you may feel guilty about your financial contribution to the household or feel unfulfilled with the title “just a mom/dad”.  But what if we could turn those feelings around in a more positive way?

I have a great job that allows me to work from home.  It’s a demanding job, most of the time, and during our busy season, I find myself working after the kids go to bed or while they nap on the weekend.  I also have to worry about shopping, cooking, laundry, pets, gardens, chickens, maintaining a relationship with my husband, maintaining a relationship with myself, and occasionally seeing family and friends.  I think I feel guilty every day.  The house is a mess, we’re having takeout again, I haven’t worked out in weeks, I just want to cuddle on the couch with my husband, and I am so overdue for a girls’ night out!  But mostly, I worry that I work too much.

When my daughter catches me working in my office “after hours”, the very first thing she says is, “Mommy, no working!” Then she goes through my desk drawers and throws a bunch of stuff all over the floor.  Then the guilt hits; caught again making my job a higher priority than my kids.

We used to have a nanny, so I would see my kids often during the work day.  When my kids recently turned 2 and 1 years old, we wanted our daughter to start socializing with other kids and found an amazing daycare provider.  They don’t take younger kids, and financially we couldn’t do daycare and a nanny, so my son is at another daycare facility.  My daughter’s daycare is amazing, but they take a lot of time off, mirroring the local schools’ vacation calendar (including taking the whole month of August off).  So, we’ve been considering moving her to the daycare my son attends.  But although he is safe and happy, the learning environment my daughter is experiencing is so much more amazing and holistic.  We want my son to have that same experience next year.  So my husband and I discussed prioties: do we take more PTO and enjoy our young children while they have an amazing early educational experience, or do we prioritize our careers?  Because of our privilege and hard work, we can actually choose option number one.  And shouldn’t we use that luck to give our kids the best we can?

Most families require two working parents in this economy.  Personally, we could adjust our lifestyle and my husband or I could stay home with the kids.  Although we’re not the “live to work” types, we do get a lot of satisfaction from our jobs.  I think a lot of people would like to “have it all” – career, family, friends, comfort.  Struggling every day to find a balance is normal.

So when my kids demand I stop working and just be with them, I want to stop feeling guilt.  Instead, I want to just put the work aside and be in the moment with them.  And I want to feel fulfilled by that, having no regrets.  Life is short, tomorrow is not promised (add your own cliche here), so I’d rather be laughing and playing with my kids.  Soon, they won’t care so much about hanging out with me, so I better enjoy it while it lasts!

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