It’s happened again. You were going to check on that project one last time before closing out for the day, and when you next look up, you notice another two hours have gone by. This caused you to miss your 5:00 p.m. exercise class. Then you are late starting dinner and wind up staying up later because you want a little more “you” time before hitting the sack. Now it’s midnight and you have to get up at 6:00 a.m., but you know that you need at least eight hours of sleep to function well the next day. How did this happen… again?
It’s happened again. You were annoyed by your partner not putting their dishes in the dishwasher. Somehow, the “reminder” you gave them about the dishes escalated into a full-on verbal sparring match and you both have your feelings hurt. You both feel unseen and unheard in your pain. And now you’re sleeping on the couch, as that heated battle moved quickly into a cold war. How did this happen… again?
We know that once we make that next click of the mouse to open that program at the end of our workday, or once we “remind” our partner of something at the end of a long, hard day, that our ability to pause and notice from that point on is herculean, if not near impossible.
We’ve opened the door and started down a path without the internal resources we need to make good decisions.
All of us have impaired judgment and abilities when we are tired, angry, triggered, aroused, hungry, etc. So, how do we notice when we are at that point and take a pause before moving forward?
What is your noticing point?
How can you train yourself to pause before you continue down an unhelpful path?
If we can tune in and learn about ourselves and what we think, feel, and experience right before heading down that path we really don’t want to go down, we can change the course of our lives and relationships.
And, while that may sound like an overstatement, it certainly is not, as our lives are made up of the choices we make from moment to moment. Any one or many small choices can lead us on a healthier path.
That choice you make at the end of the workday to open that project becomes a habit, which could mean you spending less time with those you love, reaching burnout in your job, compromising your health by missing exercise, eating less healthy… and the dominoes continue to fall. Every choice matters.
The noticing point may look a bit different for each of us, as well as in different contexts and situations.
- Perhaps, upon reflection, you gain awareness that prior to opening that program to “check one last thing” at the end of your workday you were feeling anxious about not knowing where to start tomorrow. You realize that anxiety you feel at the end of your workday happens every day that you don’t have a check-out routine; it’s that short routine at the end of your day that sets you up for success tomorrow, leaves you feeling clean at the end of the day today (not worried about the status of the project), and allows you to leave the office at 4:30 and focus on the rest of the important things in your life.
Your noticing point is the end-of-day anxiety. When you start to feel that come up for you, now you know not to open that program because it’s just going to lead you down a rabbit hole. Instead, you pull out your steno pad with your check-out routine listed and make your end-of-day notes, which set you up for a clean exit today and a successful start to tomorrow.
- Perhaps, when you reflect on the cold war you are in with your partner, you recognize you were already in a bad mood before they left the dishes in the sink and your “reminder” to them about it. You realize that the last four fights have happened on the same days you didn’t have time/make time for lunch. You grabbed a snack or two at your desk that afternoon but didn’t have an actual wholesome meal.
Your noticing point is the bad mood you were feeling before you even saw your partner. You decide that when you are feeling crabby, before interacting with your loved one, you are going to choose not to “remind” them about something they did wrong when you see them.
You know the dishes matter to you, but you also know that it will be a much more productive conversation when you are feeling better and you can speak kindly. You also realized that making your lunch a day ahead almost always means that you make time for eating it, rather than having to figure it out on the fly, so you do a better job of setting yourself up for success there and not getting the hangries.
Discovering your paths and patterns
Every one of us has paths we travel down when we aren’t at our best; they can become well-worn defaults if we don’t pause to assess what they are and when we follow them. When you are on the path is not the time to figure it out. You’re not thinking well and are not well-resourced as it is happening.
A big favor you can do for yourself — after you have found yourself on one of those well-traveled, unhealthy paths and you have made it back to your more rested, well-resourced self — is to take some time to analyze your patterns. Here are some questions you can ask yourself, but feel free to adjust them to better suit your needs or ask others that are more resonant for you:
- How did I get on that path again?
- What was I feeling right before I made the decision to follow that unhealthy path?
- Was I angry? Tired? Sad? Exasperated? Hungry? Restless? Scared? Anxious?
- Who did I interact with before I got on that path again? What was that interaction?
While this may be a tough exercise to go through, developing the awareness and implementing some small changes can lead to big differences (better decisions), which will help you stay on the path that is most healthy for you.
Our lives are made up of millions of moments and in each of these moments, we have the opportunity to set ourselves on a course towards thriving. Be aware, but also be kind and gentle with yourself as you are discovering.