Don’t sweat the small stuff – Part 2 – Lightening Up

Lighten up

Wow, this was my hardest blog to write yet.  Why?  I believe because it is so close to home.  The suggestions that Richard Carlson introduced in his book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff include the following which I grouped under Lighten Up.  (Don’t miss out on Part 1 – Make Peace with Imperfection)

  • Be flexible with changes in your plans
  • Cut yourself some slack
  • Get comfortable not knowing

Anyone that knows me well is probably saying and snickering, “Oh that is not Kathy, I wonder where this going.”

Knowing yourself

Who of you have heard me say, “I need a plan that tells me that there is no plan?”  Others know that I suffer tremendously from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.  I have been referred to as a perfectionist, a control freak and let’s put it all out there, an Aries. I admit that I have traits from each of these stereotypes, but I also know that not everything is black and white.

The bottom line is that I like to have a plan and get the most out of everything that I do.  I vividly remember the first time I learned this truth.  I was in a team building event and we were broken out into groups of four.  I was sitting with 3 of my peers, who are still among my closest friends today. We had just finished the Meyers Briggs assessment and we were reviewing our results. Our coach asked the question, “When you go on vacation, do you like to have everything planned or can you just go with the flow?”  I quickly answered, “I like to go with the flow!”  My “friends” sprayed their drinks all over me and in unison screamed, “go with the flow?!? The only way you can go with the flow is if you have a plan that tells you to go with the flow!”  Talk about a lightbulb illuminating over my head.  When I finally stopped being mad for making fun of me, I pondered their response for a moment. They were absolutely right!

Plan for “No Plan”

I have come to appreciate that when I wake up on a Saturday morning without plans, I can start to stress.  As my husband, Ralph, will attest to, he literally sees the fear in my eyes and the wheels in my head start turning.  There is even bigger problems if the sun is shining because my mother’s anthem begins playing in my head, “It is a beautiful day outside. Don’t waste it. Get outside and do something!”  Ralph and I have jointly learned that to make the most of a Saturday morning, it is best to declare our intent the night before, ‘Tomorrow, we are going to sleep in until we wake up, no alarms.  Then we are going to lay in bed as long as we can. Next, if we feel like it, we will get up and get something to eat.  We are not going to call or text anyone to make plans. We are going to go with the flow.”  Phew, now I can sleep in and not wake up panicked. I have a plan!

Well, I had a plan, until the texts tart and the invites arrive.  Now I have to make a decision.  FOMO kicks in. My desire to please everyone kicks our “no plan” out of bed.  Suddenly, I am sweating the small stuff.  We are blessed to have such wonderful friends and family that want to see us.  We are waking up together in a fabulous apartment with views of the river, healthy.  It is a gorgeous day outside and there are wonderful things we could be doing, together. Why the heck am I sweating?  My plan “to have no plan” is affected!

Lesson learned: Be flexible with your plans

Time to put it all in perspective. We review our original plan and the potential revisions.  I think to myself, “take a deep breath, be flexible, and simply make a decision.  Keep to the original plan or adjust according?”  Phew, okay, we are done, one more smooch and we can start this glorious day. No matter what we do, it is going to be wonderful!

The Perfect Plan?  

Admittedly I need a plan, or at least structure.  I have learned to be flexible that the plans may change.  The next question is, “Is there such a thing as a perfect plan?”  No, I can admit that there is always another option that might be better.  However, my point of view is that with some research you can come up with the best plan possible.

Here was my dilemma.  My cousins were coming into NYC for the weekend.  I suddenly felt the pressure to plan the most amazing weekend which was excruciating for me.  Why you ask? Personally, 1) I want everyone to have an amazing time, 2) I don’t like to miss out on anything (FOMO) and 3) when I travel, I want to see it all.

Imagine coming into the city with no plan and you wake up on morning one and decide to go to Central Park for a walk.  Next you jump on a subway and head downtown to 9-11 Memorial.  However, while on the subway you realize you really want to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral which is back up by Central Park!  For someone like me, that just blows my mind.  We just lost hours commuting. If only we had planned ahead, we could have gone to St. Patrick’s first and then headed downtown.  Apparently, though, I am not like everyone else.

My cousins came to NYC to spend time together, it was a mother/daughter trip.  They also wanted to spend time with the rest of the family.  They were not bothered by the fact that we barely saw any of the major attractions in NYC.  They knew how to enjoy the journey, appreciate the side trip to Connecticut for boating with our cousin, indulging in the NYC cuisine, shopping in Brooklyn and brunching with my family.

Lesson learned: Cut myself some slack

I have learned now, that when people are coming to visit, I ask them for a list of their must-dos, like to-dos and do not want to-dos.  I take these requests, organize them by locations, activities, etc., and put a rough sketch together to plan a day to the best of my ability.  I know that structure will help organize the day, eliminate indecision and allow for changes. For my cousins, just being in NYC and being with friends and family was enough.  Everything else was gravy on top.  I have to trust that If there is something that is really top of mind (like a specific Danish from a bakery, 3.7 miles away), they will ensure that it happens. I can’t be responsible for organizing everything.

Paralysis by Analysis

Unfortunately, this is worse when I am planning my own trips or activities.  I am now the one responsible for defining the parameters.  What are my must-dos, or what are my top priorities in location, hotels, etc.?  FOMO (fear of missing out) and my desire to get everything perfect can put me into a state of paralysis by analysis.

This is a recurring theme in my life.  I have yet to book my flight to Italy in September. I know I am going, I know the latest day I need to get there and when I am flying home.  The unknowns; what is the best airline, how early should I go, what else can I squeeze in.  These unknowns manifest themselves into the fear of making the wrong decision or worse, missing out altogether.  I will often avoid a decision so that the multiple options dwindle down and then I just need to pick from the limited possibilities remaining.  Unfortunately, this causes me much angst and aggravation.

I recall my first visit to London with Ralph.  I had lived in London and knew it well. However, this trip we were staying in a different neighborhood and we had limited time.  I wanted to make the most out of it.  I spent hours the night before picking out the ‘perfect’ hotel; the ideal location for the optimal price.  Ralph, on the other hand, was enjoying time with our friends during our last night of the visit.  Grrrr, it frustrated me.  It is not because Ralph wasn’t helping, but rather because I was stressed trying to make a decision.  His comment, which was a very valid point was, “Any hotel will be great, even if it is not perfect will be good enough. Make a decision so you can join the conversation and enjoy the company now.”  Curses batman, sometimes I hate when he is right.

Lesson learned: Be comfortable not knowing everything and any decision is better than indecision.

At the end of the day, what is the big deal?  Pick a flight/hotel/movie and move on. There are no crystal balls. Even if you do all the research in the world, something completely out of your control may happen.  (check out Part 1 of this series – Make peace with Imperfection – Life is not fair).  I am currently working on reprogramming the talk track to remind myself that the quicker I can make a decision the quicker I can move on to other things that will bring me peace.  It is not necessary to sweat the small things when making decisions.

Meet Serendipity

Ralph and I obviously have 2 very different approaches to planning our activities.  He can go with the flow and I like to have a plan.  When we tried to compromise and he made a plan, I often didn’t trust he had done enough research.  On the other hand, when I tried to go with the flow, I couldn’t relax and have fun.  We had to find a solution.  Meet our friend, Serendipity.  We agreed that we would each do some research in advance of the event.  We would figure out what the top restaurants were, the top things to do and our personal must-dos. The other stuff would fall into the nice-to-have bucket.  With this information in hand, and with a rough sketch, we would allow Serendipity to be our guide.  We were no longer on a strict time table which allowed Ralph to feel like we were going with the flow.  We had done enough research to overcome my FOMO.

As you can see, the book was so inspirational for me.  It helps me to remember the importance to lighten up.  I know myself well enough.  I need a plan, even if that plan is  “no plan” and/or invite Serendipity along.  Although my friends may tease me and say, “why don’t you just tell us what movie you have selected” when I suggest a plan, I have learned that they appreciate it.

This will continue to be an ongoing journey for me and I know I will continue to be the butt of many jokes for years to come.  I am ok with that.  I am working to reprogram my talk track (see  Reprogramming your Belief System blog) and change the dialogue in my head to help me not sweat the small stuff – no decision is a bad decision, which can always be adjusted and the quicker I can make the decision, the quicker I can enjoy life and be happy.

I hope this has helped inspire and enable you to let go of some of the small stuff too.

Serendipity always rewards the prepared. – Katori Hall, American playwright

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