Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Minding My Margin

Have you found yourself wishing for more hours in the day? More time for personal pursuits that fulfill you? Same here. While there is no way to squeeze more hours into our daily allotment of 24, there is a way to create margin for what is important. In Richard Swenson's book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, he describes margin as:
"The space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin in the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating."
When I was in my single 20s, I filled all the days. Friends, dates, concerts, community groups, events, weekends away, volunteering, school, work, films, you name it. Going at that pace was fun and fulfilling (for a season). But now I'm married (to an introvert who needs downtime) and I'm a mother (to a preschooler who needs present, active parents) and I work full-time to support said family. I also still love to do all the things. I want to go to movies, and playdates, and girls nights, and weekend getaways, and museums, and concerts, and I want to be the room mom, and volunteer for non-profit boards, and love on my friends, and donate my talents, and make all the crafts. But what I've learned (slowly, because sometimes it takes me a sec) is that while saying "Yes!" feels great, it often comes at the expense of my margin, and squeezes my gap between rest and exhaustion, breathing and suffocating.

Some of us need more margin than others. And that's why minding my margin, is a lot like minding my business. It doesn't matter that Susie travels, and volunteers, and makes the best muffins for school events, and has a spotless house, and does yoga daily, and makes her own kombucha. Susie may need less margin that I do (or she may be over-extending herself). Either way, it's not a competition or comparison game. 

So that's why as the New Year has crept in with its promise of all things being possible "if you just try!" I've had to keep my Type A/Do All The Things/ Get my Gold Star/Say Yes tendencies in check. Resolutions in and of themselves aren't terrible, but they do set me up for shredding my margin and therefore, sabotaging my efforts and ultimately failing.

I was recently listening to a podcast (Oprah's Super Soul Conversations - because, Oprah) with Shawn Achor, Harvard-trained happiness researcher. In the course of their conversation, Shawn shared several "happiness habits" on how we can cultivate happiness in our lives. The thing I loved so much about his approach is that not only was it based upon legit scientific research and multiple case studies, but the total sum of the habits he suggested would take approximately 22 minutes out of my 24 hour day (hello margin!). Here's my synopsis/snapshot:

Happiness Habits: (to make it a true habit, make these a consistent part of your day for 21 days)

  • Take 1 minute each day to list three things you are grateful for (these must be different each day)
  • Take 2 minutes each day to praise or thank some one (in person, via email, text or phone call). This can be for anything (big or small) as long as it is done with sincerity and gratitude. Not only will this make you feel good, but it will increase and develop your social connections and breadth and depth of your relationships.
  • Take 2 minutes at the end of each day to jot down 1 meaningful experience from your day. It doesn't have to be huge...a conversation, an idea, a beautiful sunset. The trick is by writing it, you're helping your brain to relive the experience.
  • Take 2 minutes to meditate and focus on your breath. Amazingly just 2 minutes enhances happiness and reduces stress. 
  • Take 15 minutes for exercise. It trains your brain to believe 'my behavior matters' which breeds optimism and positive habits. 

(You should absolutely listen to the full podcast to get all the fun nerdy research bits as to why this handful of small actions makes a big impact.)

As I've been sitting and thinking about my intentions for 2018, for both me and for my family, I keep coming back to happiness. It's been hard to consistently find my happy in the last year and a half. If you have eyes and ears and look around at our world, I'm sure you could say the same regardless of your personal situation. 

So rather than make resolutions to lose the weight I want to shed, or go to the gym 5 days a week, or train for a 5K (for the 15th time),  I'm going to focus on these happiness habits. I'm going to practice gratitude, I'm going to praise and thank people, I'm going to be still and meditate (for 2 minutes, because that seems doable) and I'm going to move my body whether it be a 15 minute walk around the block, or chasing my son at the park, or doing yoga in my living room. Because I can create 22 minutes for happiness each day while minding my margin.

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