Earlier this week, after 10 days of being physically responsible for everything the kids, the animals and my husband need — and after 6 of the busiest days of my life thanks to some prescheduled commitments and extracurricular activities — I found myself on the verge of losing it.
I could feel my blood pressure rising, and I was angry with everybody — even the baby — which is a clear sign that there’s a problem. I set him calmly in his bed, said a few unkind words to my husband (if I’m going to out myself, might as well be completely honest), put on my jacket and shoes and went outside into the wicked wind chills to cool down (literally and figuratively). I ended up climbing into the truck because it was just ridiculously cold outside, and as I sat there, I spent some time thinking about what this whole “choosing joy” thing actually means, inspired by Naomi’s question in the comments of my original post.
I think “How do you choose joy?” is a valid question. We can talk about choosing joy all we want, but it’s not easy and there’s no guidebook for what that actually means.
So here’s what it means to me:
Choosing joy happens in two ways. It happens proactively by making choices for the day that reflect my desire to count my blessings and focus on the eternal rather than my circumstances, and it happens reactively once I’ve already ended up in that place of stress, frustration and anger.
Today I’m going to talk about choosing joy proactively, at the start of every day (we’ll talk about what it looks like once things go wrong next week!).
During the first week of my husband’s injury, I set aside all of my work commitments to focus on our family’s needs. I slept hard each night and woke up each morning with a plan for how I would choose joy that day and a realistic list of what I could get done.
I invited my girls to help me in the kitchen. I said yes more often. I gave the girls my undivided attention. And it worked. My plan, my focus and my attention didn’t eliminate the hard moments, but it did make it easier to choose joy when they happened.
Here’s what I learned about proactively choosing joy:
1. Get enough sleep.
This is often easier said than done, especially with little ones in the house, and one day last week, I posted on Facebook:
Several years ago, Kat shared her secret for being a more patient mom, and — you guessed it — it was simply getting the sleep your body needs.
Sleep is so, so important, and we can so easily end up in the cycle of staying up too late because we’re tired, which just leaves us with more of a sleep deficit and even less emotional control.
2. Start with quiet time.
As a Christian, spending time in prayer and God’s Word is an important part of how I start my day. Now, contrary to what so many people have told me in the past, I don’t find it to be a “magic pill” that somehow makes the rest of my day go smoother, but I do find that it helps me put my focus where it belongs, and — if I can keep my focus on the things that really matter throughout the day — that does help me choose joy.
If you’re looking for some help and accountability with a morning quiet time, Good Morning Girls is getting ready to start a 4-week Easter study, and I can’t recommend their materials enough. Another option is the Hello Mornings program. I haven’t done one of their studies, but I love the women behind the program, and I’m sure it’s fantastic!
3. Think of ways to make every day special.
When I intentionally look for ways to make each day special, I tend to be more patient, loving and kind. I’m not talking about big fancy breakfasts or trips to get ice cream every day, but just little things like trying a new (simple) breakfast recipe or greeting my girls with the good morning song when they come downstairs (“Good morning, good morning. And how are you today? I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m glad you came to play!”)
My commitment in 2014 is to celebrate the every day, including all of the minor holidays (there are more of those than I expected — ha!), and decorating our windows with a banner or making cut-out cookies every couple weeks is a great way to keep my focus on celebrating life rather than just surviving each day.
4. Turn on the music.
It’s funny because too much noise can sometimes leave me feeling overwhelmed and cranky, but an instrumental station on Pandora, like Beethoven or 2Cellos, provides a nice backdrop to our day that seems to keep everybody calmer, happier and more focused.
Other times we’ll turn on the Disney or Veggie Tales station and have a dance party, or Need to Breathe radio when I need to get moving and clear my head. And, of course, the Frozen soundtrack is getting played regularly these days!
5. Even if you don’t have time to clean the whole house, hit the pressure points.
One of the first posts I wrote when I launched Organizing Your Way was about identifying your pressure points:
I love having a clean home, but as time has gone by and we’ve added each child to our family, I’ve simply had to relax my standards. It’s been a slow process, but the key has been identifying my pressure points – the things that make me nutty if they’re left undone – so that I can get those out of the way.
These will be different for everyone, and to identify your pressure points, you have to first let go of other people’s expectations and focus on the things that are important to you.
Maybe having a clean house shouldn’t be important to me, but the state of our house does affect my mood, patience, etc.
For me, having the couch piled with blankets and books, the counters covered in miscellanea and the bedroom scattered with clothes can make me feel like the whole house is out of control, even when it’s not. Taking 10-15 minutes to tackle these areas clears my field of vision and gives me a better perspective as I go about the rest of my day.
6. Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.
This is one of my favorite sayings whenever we’re tackling something new or hard. Whether it’s traveling with the kids, juggling work and family, or trying something new, I try to set my expectations somewhere between realistic and optimistic, but I prepare for the worst case scenario so that when things inevitably go wrong, I’m not shell-shocked and unable to recover.
So, for example, during the first week after Sean’s injury, my expectation was that the girls and I could handle it (we could!), that they would step up and help me out (they did!) and that I would find a way to juggle my work commitments and being “super mom” (okay, not so much…). Setting my expectations high gave me the confidence to actually tackle the crazyness that we were facing, but I also prepared myself mentally that I might not have enough time to write all the posts I wanted to write (I didn’t!) and that by the end of 6 days of running the girls to and fro’, I was going to be flat out exhausted (I was!).
I think there’s something to be said for our experiences matching our expectations: if we think something will be miserable, it probably will be. On the other hand, putting unreasonable or unflexible expectations on other people or situations will just lead to disappointment, so expecting the best but preparing for the worst allows me to balance both of those principles.
7. Make time for movement and exercise.
Okay, I’m not great at this one, but I know it’s true anyway. Getting exercise, even a little bit, is a huge mood booster. Starting your day with exercise also boosts your metabolism and gives you energy for the day.
The 7-minute workout is a great way to fit in a good workout on a busy day. Seriously, who doesn’t have time for a 7-minute workout? (Says she who hasn’t done in it a month.)
8. Meet the needs of your inner introvert AND your inner extrovert.
As an extreme introvert, it’s easy for me to focus on my need to have time alone for introspection and forget about my need to interact with people as well. Last week, I found that getting out of the house and spending time with people I really like helped me to keep going. Of course, the flip side of that is I feel like I still haven’t quite recovered from all of that interaction — ha!
No matter where you fall on the scale, you’re wired to need time alone and time with other people (how much of each will vary greatly), so it pays to do a little navel gazing to figure out how much you need of both so that you can fill your energy reserves rather than draining them!
9. Count your blessings.
Although I’ve never formally joined the One Thousand Gifts joy dare to count my blessings on paper, I like to think I’m pretty good about keeping even the smallest blessings in mind. I am so thankful for this crazy beautiful life — for each of my rambunctious, spunky girls, for the tiny baby boy that holds me hostage with his coos and giggles, for a husband who often knows me better than I know myself, for friends who get my neurotic tendencies, for this little slice of heaven where we get to live, for the chance to work at home, and on and on and on. When you count your blessings every day, it’s a lot easier to choose joy!
10. Keep your circumstances in perspective.
If Horatio Spafford could write these words shortly after losing all 5 of his children as well as his fortune, surely I, too, can choose joy in the midst of my minor trials and pain:
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
A friend of mine lost her home and all of her possessions in a fire this past weekend. While the past two weeks have been hard for our family, no doubt, focusing on what she’s going through gives me some much needed perspective.
Compared to what so many other people are facing, my life is good, and I don’t want to ever lose sight of that. And even if one of these unimaginable tragedies were to impact our family, I want to model Horatio Spafford’s example and focus on the eternal even as I grieve.
What about you? How do you proactively choose joy at the start of a new day?