How to Stay Calm

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Something unexpected happened, and you freaked out.

Afterward, you felt embarrassed about your overreaction.

Trust me, I have made the same mistake countless times, including this week.

I also believe that we can both do better. Here’s how:

1. Tell God.

Duh, right? Seems obvious for Christians, but I don’t think we practice the habit often enough. As soon as you encounter an uncomfortable situation, say to God, “This happened. I’m not sure how to respond.” It only takes five seconds, and it actually works.

2. Tell yourself.

The smartest thing my counselor every told me was this: “Feelings aren’t facts.” In the moment, the tiniest problems can seem like the end of the world, so I talk to myself internally: Your feelings aren’t facts. Chances are, you won’t feel this way in an hour.

Feelings aren’t facts.

3. Distract yourself.

If possible, find a task to consume your focus. Hustle to the laundry room and fold a shirt. Play a song on your phone. Brush your teeth–whatever pops into your mind. At work, open a new document and start typing.  Have a conversation with a coworker.

After about ten minutes, the initial wave of emotions will pass. Then you can revisit the situation with a little better perspective. Reacting immediately leads to regret.

4. Breathe alone.

Suppose the first three steps didn’t work, and you start to lose control. Go into the bathroom, shut the door, sit on the toilet, and breath slowly. Count to five for each inhale. Fill your diaphragm. Force yourself to finish ten full breaths before you quit.

5. Read the Bible out loud.

I use this step as my last-ditch effort when I can’t stop crying.

Through the gasping breaths, pick a Psalm at random and start to read verbally. The act of speaking serves as a distraction and requires more regular breathing. The meaning of the text gets you out of your head, and the Holy Spirit can start working on your heart.

Do not consider this a comprehensive list.

These five tricks  happen to have worked for me in the past. In fact, I tried a couple of them today with relative success. I didn’t even need to resort to number five–but I’d still love to hear your top five tips for keeping your emotions in check. Leave them in the comments!

Let’s work on staying calm together.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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How to Beat Your Fear of Failure

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They key is to try. Just keep trying.

I want so much to know God better; to become more organized; to practice healthier habits; and to keeping moving steadily toward my future goals.

I am also so very afraid.

Much like everyone else on this planet, I have trouble maintaining momentum. I do really well for a few weeks, and then I realize that I haven’t exercised or written a blog post in days … and then weeks. Heck, I even follow a blog about how to write a good blog, and the author warned me about that very problem.

Because of my pride, I hate to acknowledge that I’m one of “those” people who sets a goal and then gets tired. As soon as my excitement and motivation wane, so do my efforts. Enter discouragement. Enter self-doubt. Enter fear.

Strange, isn’t it, that while engaged in trying, I don’t feel scared? The moment I stand still, I start to wonder about the future, imagining an endless series of false starts. Then I attempt to mask my sense of inadequacy with excuses. It’s not a big deal; I’m doing fine. That goal didn’t matter very much anyway. I’ll get better. I’m just stressed out today.

What if, instead of assuaging my guilt with meaningless self-talk, I chose to silence my worries by trying again? Push “play” on a workout video. Open a new tab. Channel the mental energy I’ve been wasting on shame into trying.

Suddenly I’m back in college, listening to my classmates fret about upcoming assignments instead of working on said assignments. I pleaded guilty to the same crime on many occasions. Almost always, opening a book calmed my fears enough to help me focus. Turns out trying is an instant morale boost.

Trying is an instant morale boost.

Not only do I forget my fears while trying, but I also stop obsessing about the outcome. Stuck in a state of nervous inactivity, I create elaborate plans about what I will accomplish once I finally [get motivated] or [get over this cold] or [get back from this trip] or [insert other excuses].  In the midst of trying, however, my goals automatically shrink to realistic sizes … and I don’t mind so much.

I am often surprised to discover that when I actually try instead of berating myself for not trying sooner, I start to enjoy the process. As much as we avoid work; as much as we complain about work; as much as we dread the work ahead of time; effort feels good.

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So don’t worry about the times you didn’t succeed in the past. Just try again. Simply by trying, you can let go of the shame of previous inconsistency, silence your inner critic, applaud the courage it took to try one more time — and there it is!

The elusive motivator you’ve been seeking.

Trying makes you want to try again.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Why Routines Are the Key to Progress

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Without routines, you will not achieve lasting change.

Think for a moment about the people you know who never seem to find success. Do they  get excited about new goals only to give up after a few weeks? In my experience, people who never learn consistency spend their lives feeling frustrated, unsatisfied, and stuck. You do not need to become one of those people.

All you need to do is the same thing, every day, for the rest of your life.

People who never learn consistency spend their lives feeling stuck.

If I may be vulnerable with you for a moment, standing still is probably my greatest fear.

Stagnation terrifies me because, in my weakest, most passive state, I don’t move forward. I never would have gone to college if my parents hadn’t pushed me. I couldn’t have married anyone less stubborn than my husband because no other man would have waited so long. For me, the status quo holds a lot of allure. I love routines because they save me from myself.

For me, the status quo holds a lot of allure.

A good routine guarantees eventual progress. A few minutes of practice every day at almost any skill will yield results over a lifetime. Routines help me to feel secure because I don’t need to worry about regressing. As long I persevere, I will continue to improve.

Now, please understand that routines do not guarantee perfection. They only ensure progress. As a recovering perfectionist, I know that my desire for perfection often destroys any chance at self-improvement because I don’t begin. Fear of failure keeps me from trying at all. When I do finally get started, I tend to waste all of my energy perfecting the first step and never reach the end.

Instead of attempting perfection, I want to be content with forward motion.

Right now, I’d like to move closer to Christ. It’s been a while since I maintained a solid routine of prayer and Bible study, and I’m afraid of missing out on Jesus. Maybe it sounds simplistic, but I’ve seen how graciously God responds when I extend a little effort. Sometimes I think Christians over-spiritualize their relationships with God. As with any human friendship, consistent communication builds stronger bonds.

You already know the routines that will propel you toward your goal. You also recognize when you need to switch things up so you don’t go completely crazy. I’m praying this post gives you the encouragement you need to keep going. Maybe you don’t see the progress right now, but sticking with something almost always works.

Routines tend to be boring. They’re hardly ever fun, entertaining, or exciting. They don’t always feel like progress in the moment, and they require a lot of dogged determination and tedious repetition. They’re also the only way to achieve lasting change.

Don’t give up.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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How to Set Smaller Goals and Make More Progress

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I’m talking about ridiculously small goals … ones that feel so pathetically insignificant, you doubt that you’ll see any results at all.

Trust me. You will surprise yourself.

I had two problems: dishes piling up in the sink and laundry piling up on the floor. I wanted an empty sink and a clear carpet. Unfortunately, I also knew myself well enough not to attempt sudden, drastic improvements.

Instead, I set two goals that seemed embarrassingly easy: switch a load per day. For me, that meant moving dishes from the sink into the dishwasher and going to bed, not waiting for the cycle to finish. It meant transferring wet clothes into the dryer without worrying about folding. The next step could wait until tomorrow.

To my utter astonishment, within a few days, my sink emptied and my floor cleared. I didn’t procrastinate because my tiny goals didn’t feel daunting. As soon as I got home from work, I switched a load of dishes and switched a load of laundry.

It took about ten minutes, and my house became a much nicer place to live.

Not only did my baby steps turn into substantial progress, but I inadvertently tricked myself into becoming motivated. Since switching loads didn’t feel difficult, most nights I thought, “I could do a little more.” I’d spend a few extra minutes running upstairs to grab another armload of clothes or scrubbing a pot that didn’t fit in the dishwasher … because I wanted to keep working!

What sort of sorcery was this?

This probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but I discovered that most of my laziness stemmed from fear. I feared failure. By setting minuscule goals, I removed the intimidation factor, and suddenly I felt free to accomplish more. On the nights when I didn’t have the energy for anything extra, I went to sleep guilt-free because I had accomplished my minimum.

Most of my laziness stems from fear.

Here’s my advice: Choose a goal, and then divide it into pieces. Pick one piece, and start there. Maybe you want to get in shape. Instead of planning an hour-long workout, do sit-ups for five minutes before bed. Write 5 Minutes of Sit-Ups in your planner every day. It will feel silly. Do it anyway.

Little goals work better long-term because they’re so repeatable. Today, for instance, I’ll admit that there are dishes in the sink and laundry on the floor. I’m not overly discouraged, though, because I’ve seen how quickly small goals can become big progress–and I know I can do it again.

Start today with one small goal. When you lose the habit, start again. Don’t get discouraged. Over time, setting smaller goals will help you to develop confidence in your own ability to make lasting change. In my experience, that is the real victory.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

P.S. I’d love to hear how you break your goals into more manageable chunks!

Your Life Isn’t Boring

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I did not want to come home from Christmas vacation this year.

As my husband will attest, I grumped my way through long stretches of the thirteen-and-a-half hour drive through the snow from Deming, New Mexico to Littleton, Colorado. Going home meant returning to responsibility, which felt overwhelming. Dishes, laundry, cat litter, weary days at work, grocery shopping, lonely nights when my husband had to work late, and much-needed home repairs stretched before me with depressing certainty. I preferred to stay at his parents’ house, sleeping the mornings away and watching Christmas movies endlessly.

Then I actually got home.

Turns out, I missed my sweet kitties. It felt really good to exercise again. My stomach thanked me for a break from the rich food. I enjoyed my first days back at my job, and I discovered a fresh wave of motivation to get started on my goals for 2019. My husband even surprised me with Wicked tickets as an early anniversary gift, and then we watched a movie on the couch together.

So … what was I dreading, exactly?

Instead of boring, mundane, or difficult, my ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments. I loved my routines — even getting back to my own toothpaste made me smile. How had I forgotten so quickly? Feeling foolish, I found myself thanking God for this lovely life that I live.

My ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments.

Your life might not look anything like mine, but I’m guessing that you have plenty of reasons to appreciate your daily routines, too. Instead of complaining about tomorrow, maybe you could learn from my mistake and make up your mind to notice the little blessings. As I’m discovering, the day ahead is rarely as difficult as I imagine.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

An Exercise in Humility

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Hopefully no one will read this particular blog post because it’s a little embarrassing.

My boss asked us to come up with a few holiday promotion ideas for the radio station this year, and one of my coworkers suggested a charitable drive that might benefit veterans. The theme fit the station since the owner of our broadcasting company has frequently emphasized the horrifying statistics about veteran suicides in America.

I got on the phone with the founder of an organization called ACTS (A Community Taking a Stand) and asked if she had any needs that we could fill. She runs a 5-bedroom home where previously-homeless veterans live temporarily as they get back on their feet. She said yes: they needed cleaning supplies for the house. Another co-worker and myself created a list, printed a flier, and got a few of our advertising partners involved.

The response surprised us. Listeners and clients alike donated new pillows, blankets, canned goods, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, and more until our colorful Christmas boxes overflowed onto the floor. We reported our results to our boss, who seemed pleased. I started to think, Look what a nice thing we’re doing, which quickly devolved into, Look what a good person I am. Oops.

After proudly describing my efforts to a few friends and family members, basking in the glow of a good deed, I ran into an actual veteran in the elevator at work and started to experience the uncomfortable prickle of conviction because I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I know close to nothing about our military or their families. I’ve never even met these veterans I’m getting paid to “help.” I certainly shouldn’t take credit.

Note to self: anytime I start to think highly of my own efforts, I’d better tread carefully.

The trouble with observing my own vanity is that I can’t do much to change it. All I can do is ask God, “Would you help me to see things as they really are?” Since He’s gracious, He’ll intervene to adjust my perspective. Until then, I should probably shut up about it.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’  – Jesus, Luke 17:10

5 Good Things About Today

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Tonight, my spirit wants to complain.

There are a couple of stressful areas of my life right now that I am trying to solve, and my natural self wants to obsess about those problems until I conquer them with pure willpower. If I’m honest, though, fixing those issues won’t make me happy because two equally urgent conundrums will instantly take their place. We live in a broken world surrounded by imperfect people, and while we should continue to take concrete steps toward progress, sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.

Here I go:

  1. Today I shared my commute with my dad.
  2. Today I laughed with my coworkers.
  3. Today I ate lunch with my husband.
  4. Today I discussed movie theme songs live on the radio.
  5. Today I drove home to a hot dinner waiting in the crock pot.

Sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.

You know what?

That actually sounds like a pretty good day.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride