Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When Wonder Woman Rules

Not long ago a friend at the end of a hectic day sat down with a glass of wine and a wistful look in her eye. "I feel like I do everything at seventy-five percent-- parenting, teaching, marriage, art. I can't do any one thing at a hundred percent anymore. It's so disheartening," she sighed. I could only nod in agreement. Who hasn't felt stymied in the attempt to be Wonder Woman, and, for me, my friend is Wonder Woman. It got me thinking about the juggling act of life.

It's the falling short of our own expectations that haunts us, but do we consider that our standards are set for olympic conditions much of the time? Let's think about this.

Wonder Woman looks fabulously fit, lives in a palatial yet immaculate villa, kicks villain butt regularly, wears spectacular gold bracelets, and manages to have a successful career including comic books and a television show. I don't recollect marriage, children, or household chores factoring much into her days, but she's the one we conjure up in our hour of despair. We compare ourselves to the idols of course.

I'd like to blame it all on Wonder Woman, but the truth is I drive myself like Andrew Carneige or J.D. Rockefeller drove the steel workers or oil contracts-- with ridiculous demands fearful of an unproductive moment or relationship. I also exhaust myself. 

In the attempt to consider new juggling methods while looking as fabulous or not as Wonder Woman, these thoughts come to mind:

Buckets. Different buckets need to be focused on at different times. Think of it this way, you focus on learning in college, the screaming kid in childhood, the job at hand in the pressure cooker of your career. The perfectly balanced life is an illusion--read Fast Company article by Keith H. Hammonds, Balance is Bunk!  Your sanity is better served by accepting your fate at hand, doing what you're good at, and redesigning life regularly.

Sabbaticals. Academics and priests break away from routines at least once every seven years. Try a change of focus for a whole day, a whole month, a whole year. Do a side project that follows your bliss just for the fun of it. Commit to it, plan for it, make it happen. Take a break from the way you normally go about business and redesign it.

Meditation. The research on mindfulness is pointing the way for anyone who doubts the value of this restorative practice. Blocking the time is often a struggle, but it's really the mind game of valuing calm over chaos. Start with five minutes. Really, you can do five minutes, everyday. Go from there.

Focus on the now. My least favorite activity is shifting my focus from what I'm doing to what someone else calls me to notice. However, I think this is at the root of the falling short fear noted above. If I don't focus on the moment at hand, I'm missing it. Very few brains can simultaneously listen and hold a thought so stop trying. Focus on the who, what, the now, right before you, and let go of that thought. The crux of the struggle is the attempt to control our attention- attention gets pulled, the counter attempt to shift back attention competes with the demands of the moment at hand, but instead of fighting the shift, do it, be done with it. Once the wall of attention is breeched, the focus is gone anyway so get into the moment, be there. Then you can wander back into the abyss. It helps to block off schedules, phones, internet access, or set time limits to avoid total access all the time, but know that some things will manage to get through. Be in the now.

Go outside. I know my mother was a fan of this one, but it does reset the mental energy. Go out into the expanse of the great outdoors. Some how I come back in with a new feeling of possibility. Skip the smoke, but wallow in the sunshine, watch the rain drops, feel the breeze, look up at the patch of sky drifting some where near you. The world is so very large. Connect to that largeness and loose yourself in it.

Power moves. I recently watched Ann Cutty's TED talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. I've got one thing for you. It takes two minutes. Put your arms up in the victory thrust. Wait for it, wait for it. Feel the surge of testosterone and calm? Let them fuel your attitude. Stay there for two minutes. Now, go forth and lead like the Wonder Woman you are.