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Friday, January 31, 2014

Systems Matter, and Also, Cut Yourself Some Slack

I used to think that I was horrible at keeping up with laundry.  I could just never ever stay ahead of the laundry, for like the past 10 years.  I am serious.  I thought I must just be the most disorganized person ever in the home organization department.
luxuriously gigantic washing machines matter

And then we moved here.  And I can get all of my laundry done in two days.  Even when I get behind, it doesn't take much work at all to catch up.  Because we have a fancy expensive washer and dryer set that allows for full sized loads, rather than the stackable or old small washer/dryer sets I had been working with for the past 10 years.  Suddenly, I can keep up!  

Turns out, it wasn't me.   It was the system I was working with. 

And I think a lot of things in life are like that.  We go around believing that we're not good at math because of bad grades in one math course.  Or that we're not musical because we couldn't learn to play the piano.  Or that we're bad at cooking because all those recipes turned out funny.   

But what if we just never had the right math teacher?  What if our fingers were meant to play violin rather than piano?  What if our oven always cooks hotter, or our pans don't heat evenly, and that's really what's getting in our way?  Too often, we immediately blame problems on ourselves, when really there might be a gazillion reasons for them.  We cut our friends slack immediately when something doesn't work out for them, but it doesn't occur to us to cut ourselves some slack.  

When I was in college, I drove a big 4 door sedan, and the driver's seat was really low, and I always felt like I wasn't the best driver because I couldn't really tell where my car was exactly in space.  Even years later, driving a Saturn that was less gigantic, I still felt that I had to really be careful and pay attention to parallel park or even just regular park.  But then, after a few years of being in the working world, we bought our Scion XB, a boxy little car in which the driver's seat sits up high, and I could see very clearly where my car started and stopped.  Suddenly, I became a much more confident driver.   I am a pro at parallel parking!  All those years of feeling like not the best driver, it wasn't me.  It was the layout of my cars.  Systems matter.  

So when you're feeling down on yourself for something, try to examine what systems might be playing a role in the issue.  Look for all the invisible external forces that might be interacting to make things difficult.  Because sometimes it's not you.  And something as minor as a well-functioning washer and dryer can help you see yourself in a better light.  

What problems do you blame on yourself that really might be caused by a "system" problem?   

 (By the way, I have to give props to my husband for coming up with the phrase, "Systems matter."  Because he says that all the time for his work, and I stole it because it's so true.) 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Phase Your Dreams

Bathroom Inspiration Wall!
One of the schools where I work has an inspiration wall in the staff bathroom.  I love reading the quotes teachers choose to post there.  And one of my favorites says, "Phase Your Dreams."

Do you see it?

Okay, I admit it.  I know it really says, "Chase your dreams."  But the font is crazy, and the first time I saw it, I thought it said, "Phase your dreams."  Which is actually a much better quote, I think.   Because who has time to chase anything these days?  With reports to write and presentations to give and meetings to prep and children to help with homework and laundry to be done--there is pretty much no way possible that I'm going to be able to carve out space to "chase" a dream.

But "phase" a dream?  I can do that.

I can choose small actions that will eventually, in sum, lead me to a dream.  Step by step, phase by phase.

I have a dream to be strong and muscular and healthy.  I think maybe what has kept me from getting there is that I keep thinking I need to go "work out" for at least an hour every day.  Which at this point in my life is just not going to happen.  (Kudos to you if you can do that, though!)  So, I can't dive right in full-force to this dream.  But I can find 10 minutes to strength train today, 15 minutes to do Pilates tomorrow, and 30 minutes to walk the next day and get some cardio in.  Seriously, I tried doing some push ups yesterday, and that is definitely going to have to be a dream I phase in, very slowly.  (Starting with like .5 of a push up and working my way up to 5 in a row maybe by... next year.)  But really, when I allow myself to dream big but start small, I actually make more progress than when I keep telling myself I have that "big project" to tackle.

So, friends, "Phase your dreams!"  And in that same vein, "Do small things!"  And "Reach for the doorframe!" And "Climb every molehill!"  I'm pretty sure next school year, these new quotes will all have caught on, and we'll see them posted in funky fonts in every. single. bathroom.

What amazing thing have you accomplished that you "phased" into existence?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Just Add Music

Flanna's favorite artist right now--Lorde from New Zealand
Last Friday, I walked into a fourth grade classroom to pick up a student for speech therapy, and guess what?  The student did not want to come to speech.  Not even with temptations of all the fun we would have.  Not even with the mention of all the games we might play.  Not even with the possibility of earning iPad time.  Not even with his teacher threatening him with losing recess if he wouldn't go.  (I promise I wouldn't have let that happen!) He did not want to come to speech.  He did not want to, Sam I am. 

Somehow, magically, I coerced him into just walking with me for a few minutes in the hallway.  I used my handy dandy emotions thermometer (see below) and had him tell me how he was feeling.  Turns out he was "tired", he grumbled.  His morning had been rough.  He just wanted to go to sleep.

Well, I have a soft place in my heart for kids who like to sleep.  I myself wish sleep was a recognized hobby or competitive sport, because I would get the gold medal.

But back to my story.

TJ's Emotions & Energy Thermometer:
Print it, laminate it, and let kids use a dry erase
board to "check in" about their emotions/energy level.
If too high, help them use a self-calming strategy.
If too low, help them use an energizing strategy.
(Calm/relaxed is ideal.) 
On the back of my handy dandy emotions thermometer, I showed this fourth grader some ideas for how to "energize" himself a bit so that he could move his thermometer from "tired" up to "calm," so that he could get in gear for learning.  There are all kinds of energizing options like, "jump up and down, listen to music, go get some water, stretch," etc.  This kiddo picked "listen to music."  Luckily, I have iTunes radio on my cell phone.  My client requested his favorite song, which miraculously I found within a few seconds.  

The transformation was instant.  His face brightened.  He smiled and danced a little in his seat.  He sat up straight.  He completed his speech work without needing a single redirection.  What had been an exhausted, defiant, upset fourth grade boy, became Mr. Cooperative Student of the Year, just like that.

So, you've got a cranky kiddo?  Just add music.  You've got a grumbly 4th grader?  Just add music.  And hey, if you yourself are feeling overwhelmed and tired and heading home from work to pick up your child from childcare and trying to remember if you defrosted the chicken last night and feeling guilty that there is no way you're going to the PTA meeting tonight…well, maybe, just maybe, you can Just Add Music.   And let the moment be transformed.

What about you?  Do you find that adding music to your day makes it better?  And what's your favorite music right now?  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to Slow Down Time

In other news, I got a haircut in November.  :)
Oh, my.  It has been forever since I have made time to blog!  And I miss it so immensely!  There is something about blogging that calms my tense nerves and helps me look for the lesson, the beauty, the fun, in these bustling days. 

I feel as if I should catch you all up.

In the months since I last blogged.... We went to LA for Thanksgiving!  My daughter turned 7!  And grew about 5 inches taller! My hubby and I carved out time for ourselves and had some date nights here and there!  Flannery was an angel in our church Christmas play!  We all got sick and then got well again.  We flew across the country and spent two and a half glorious weeks with our family and friends for winter break!  My BFF got engaged!  We got stuck on layovers due to crazy weather and once we finally made it back to Cali, I was way behind at work and have been juggling to catch up ever since!  Also, I somehow coerced myself into regular exercise and am feeling pretty good!

And now we are almost done with the first month of this new year!  How did that happen?  I don't know if it's due to figuring out a new place after moving, or working in an intense start-up environment, or just the fast-paced life here in Silicon Valley, but I have to say that these past 6 months have been the quickest in my life.  I sometimes wish I could slow down time. 

There are moments, though, that have lasted longer.  Good deep conversations with my hubby.  Playing hide and seek with Flanna, waiting silent and still for her to find me in the laundry room.  Standing in church listening to the choir sing with all of their swirling harmonies. 

Those are the moments I think I let slip by too quickly when I don't blog.  

And it's interesting, because I kept thinking that I wasn't blogging because my life had been spinning so quickly.  But maybe my life has been spinning so quickly because I haven't taken the time to reflect on it through this blog?

Maybe that's the secret--we slow down time by preserving the good parts and reliving them when we need a pick me up.  This might explain the proliferation of sites like Snapfish and Shutterfly, and why I own literally a gazillion photo albums.  :)

How do you slow down time and try to create a good pace for your life?