I’ve always had high self-expectations. Sometimes they have been realistic, while at others, not so much.
I’m very lax when it comes to household chores, yet I am an anal perfectionist professionally. Most of the time, this lax/high-expectation balance works fairly well.
Yet, during the initial months of Covid, my balancing act crashed. It crashed and burned, fizzled, and ultimately, stopped working entirely. I stopped writing blogs. I was on edge, antsy, restless, and anxious.
Like most, I worried. Worried about my husband’s job, staying healthy and Covid-free, and dealing with loneliness during self-isolation and social distancing. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I missed my children, grandchildren, and friends.
In addition to mix, my sister and I were in the midst of moving my 90 year old mom from her home (of 42 years) in Florida, to an independent living facility in CT. The move had been in the works months before Covid-19 reared its ugly head.
Mom is by nature a difficult person (politely terming it), and threw roadblock after roadblock in our way. Moving mom (1,200 miles away), with all the resulting paperwork, logistics, housing, packing, planning, and health concerns, became a full-time job. State shut-downs and mandatory quarantines complicated an already stressful situation (for all parties involved). There were numerous days I thought I would lose it.
Unlike many, however, I am lucky to have many stress-reducing tools in my “spiritual arsenal.” I know how to ground myself through meditation. How to visualize. How to stay healthy and balanced by self-practicing Reiki, a form of healing energy work. Additionally, I have several creative outlets-drawing, writing, journaling, researching.
Yet, I performed none of the above. This alone was frustrating. However, the self-expectation that I should be utilizing my spiritual tools/creativity made me procrastinate further.
As Dr. Shad Helmstetter explains in his book, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, when we tell ourselves that we “should” be doing something, we’re implicitly reinforcing the idea that we’re not doing it.
The late psychologist Albert Ellis, developed a therapeutic technique termed ‘Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy’, (REBT). He proposed that:
People are not disturbed by things, but rather their view of things.
In many cases, irrational beliefs are reflected as absolutes, as in “I should”, “I must.”
Shoulds are where my high self-expectations came into play. “I should meditate/draw/write/blog daily to ground myself,” I told myself, over and over again. Yet I didn’t. Was this productive or helpful? No. Why not? By using the word should, I only reinforced the fact that I wasn’t, resulting in a self-defeating thought process.
My thinking was unrealistic. Negative thinking patterns contribute to fear, anxiety, procrastination, and feeling “stuck.” Emotions I was already experiencing, and certainly didn’t need more of!
One day, I had enough of my should and musts. Enough stress. Anxiety. Loss of sleep. I was tired of thinking in a distorted, unrealistic, and perhaps faulty pattern. I desperately needed to re-frame these thoughts.
I came to the realization that moving mom during Covid was a more-than full time job-one that required every ounce of my physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. The tank was empty, so to speak. I was just too tired, too drained at the end of the day to write blogs. To write. To research. And that was ok. Mom was all I could concentrate on at the moment. Once I accepted my limits, I was able to break the unhealthy thought patterns and release unrealistic expectations.
It is important to focus on what is achievable at any particular moment in time, and let go of what is isn’t. ‘Spiritual’ expectations are no different than any others. All shoulds create unwanted anxiety and stress.