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January 24, 2018

Motivation Thread: The Little Things Add Up To Big Things [Warden]

My rare, sporadic blog posts here often deal with family life. There are two reasons for this: 1) I don't care to compete with ace on political analysis. He's got that covered and he's better informed than me. 2) I think I have something of value to share on general life issues.

Now here's a confession: I've been a rotten father and husband since Christmas. That's not something I'm proud to admit, but I want to talk about it anyway because I think there are some useful takeaways from the emotional hole I've been in lately.

If you can relate to feeling like you're losing your grasp on things, then you may want to read on. If not, then you'll probably want to move on. This will bore you.


I don't know how the rest of the world works, but I'm a momentum guy. It probably stems from how compulsive I am. I'm pretty much full speed in either direction and I tend to bounce from one area of extreme interest to another.

Anyway, I was heading into the holidays with a full head of steam this year. In November, I'd called a family meeting to hash out some positive changes we'd be making to plug holes in our spending and up our charitable giving. I also announced a new accountability program for myself in regards to exercise and diet.

I felt particularly good about telling my family that it was okay to hold me accountable for living healthier. I'd even mapped out short and long term weight loss goals for myself.

I wrote my target weight on a sticky note and slapped it on the refrigerator as a reminder. It was a scary goal, but I told my kids that I wanted to be a good example for them and prove I could do something hard. My wife got fired up, too, writing down her number and slapping it next to mine. Great, I thought. We'll do it together.

I bought some cool new workout equipment to get me fired up about exercising and started texting my workout sets and reps to my wife and 11-year-old boy every day to be accountable to my promise. The weight started dropping, one pound a week just as planned.

And then, on Christmas Eve, the flu ravaged our family and knocked me out of commission for most of the next week. I spent all of Christmas Day on the couch, drifting in and out of sleep. The longest I was awake was two hours in the morning so I could watch the kids open their presents.

The following week, I got a different version of the flu and lost whatever steam I'd picked up after recovering from the first round.

And then everything just went to shit. All of the inactivity plunged me into a depression. I tend to suffer from seasonal affectation disorder. I know a lot of people think this disorder is some bullshit, made up fakery meant to appeal to complainers, but it's real and it can be a total bastard to deal with. This time it had me good.

But it wasn't just the weather. It was everything. I've been emotionally struggling with a lot of things lately--middle age, work dissatisfaction, anxiety, a fear of what the future holds for my kids, and a general lack of purpose.

Unable to work through these things and with the cold weather getting me down, I just emotionally flat-lined, withdrawing from everyone, staying up too late, and spending my time in escapist activities like watching decade-old World Series of Poker coverage and playing video games.

Finally, my wife called me out on my behavior. She was tired of going to bed alone every night and wouldn't tolerate having a grouchy, withdrawn husband who was neglecting everyone around him.

It was true. I was behaving like a loser.

Now the thing about my wife is that she's got an enormously high emotional IQ, so she knew to approach me out of concern rather than to pick a fight about it. And I knew she was right. All I could tell her was I'm so sick and tired of myself that I feel like I'm just sitting here running the clock out on my life.

I didn't have answers. I still don't, really. I just knew I wasn't trying nearly as hard as I should to get out of this rut, so I promised that I would.

I'd been praying on this very thing for months, sometimes tearfully. And it felt like all I ever got in return was silence and me compulsively repeating the same negative behavior and thoughts over and over, despite promising myself that I wouldn't.

The most frustrating thing for me is that my life is objectively good and I know it. I don't like my job very much, but I don't have major money worries. My health is outstanding for my age. My blood work, heart rate and blood pressure are all aces. The worst things I have to live with are hypoglycemia, untreated sleep apnea and some arthritis. I can hardly complain about that.

My family is in good shape, too. The kids are happy, healthy, well-adjusted and doing well in school. My wife loves her job and is steadily increasing her pay every year. We have enough time and money to take fun vacations together and almost never fight about anything. I have a strong, happy marriage when I'm not fucking it up by neglecting my wife.

So at the end of the day, I'm mostly in the position of asking myself, "Just what the hell is YOUR problem, idiot? Why can't you get YOU straightened out?"

Well, the other day God finally answered. And this isn't some big, mountain top mystical revelation, but here it is--you are nothing but a collection of all of your thoughts and decisions. And every one of them matters.

In short, little things add up to big things and I've been doing a lot of the little things wrong.

I like to tell people that I make a lot of little mistakes, but rarely make a big one. And that's true. I'm a pretty conservative, risk adverse person who rarely makes big decisions without considerable thought and preparation. It's saved me from a lot of grief in my life (and maybe caused me to miss out on some cool things, too).

But here's the thing -- these little, seemingly inconsequential mistakes have been catching up to me and turning into one big problem, which is my mental state.

Here's a good example. I'm a night owl. More than half of my work days are in the evenings and I have a lot of energy at the end of the day. So I come home wired and instead of picking up a book and reading myself to sleep in bed, I come home, pour a bourbon and coke and goof around on the internet or watch TV for a few hours.

Just one, mind you. (Okay, fine it's a double.) I'm not getting drunk. Seems harmless enough, right?

I'm afraid not.

The kids are up in the morning and I have to be up, too. My younger one is home with me every other day. So what happens? Well, I'm not a morning person anyway and now I'm sleep deprived. So the wife and kids get a grouchy, low energy dad right off the bat. What else happens? It's pretty well documented that when you're tired, you tend to crave carbs and sugar more and that's certainly true for me. So here comes the all the wrong calories, accompanied by a crash.

Now we have an unproductive dad who just blew up his diet, skipped a workout, and feels miserable both physically and emotionally. How did this happen? Oh, just a small decision to indulge in a little alcohol and stay up too late. It didn't feel like a big deal at the time, but it sure snowballed into one.

So, last week came a commitment to doing the little things right. It's a little intimidating because I'm so compulsive about certain things, but the flip side is that the knowledge that doing the little things right frees me from worry about the big things, which is my worry spot--those, if I do the little things right, will just fall into place.

After my wife called out my behavior, it hit me that my 6-year-old will be in school full time next year. No more mornings and early afternoons together. No trips to the park. No board games. No eating lunch in front of the TV together. No naps snuggled up on the couch.

The clock is ticking, and I don't want to miss out on a single moment with him. The greatest joy of my life has been the ability to take care of both my kids during the day. I broke down in tears when the older one transitioned to full time school and I know this next one will be even harder because he's my last.

With that knowledge, I made sure my younger one got my full attention last week. I did all the small things right. We goofed around, played cards and board games and had such a nice time together that he told my wife later that night that he'd just had the BEST day with his dad.

If that's not motivation for getting the small things right, I don't know what is. I think I told him at least 5 times how much I like him being home with me so we can be buddies.

Before the weather broke warm, we went sledding together. I hate cold weather, but I promised him ahead of time that we'd do it so I wouldn't have any excuse to stay in bed too late and lose part of the day to depression.

It was sub-zero with wind chill, just the two of us on that hill and we had a blast. We didn't quit until I broke my sled. I dropped 10 bucks at Dunkin Donuts afterward and carved out a day neither of us are likely to forget.

So here's what's up. I didn't intend for this to be such a me-me-me post. My real intention was to encourage others because I know this time of year can be rough on people. The holidays are stressful, but there's also a post-Christmas letdown that often goes unrecognized.

The internet is a strange place where people are reluctant to admit to any weaknesses. I guess it's not the bravest thing in the world to admit to mine anonymously, but I wanted to put it out there to let others know that they're not alone and their valleys aren't forever.

So, if you've been experiencing anything like I have, take heart that even when you've been screwing up, you can always start making better choices today. No one gets it right all the time. We zig-zag through life, sometimes getting it almost perfect and others just falling flat on our faces.

I'm determined to make this one of the upswings--from diet, to exercise, to quality time with my family. I've been down in the dumps long enough. It's not me I'm sick of, it's the worst part of me that needs to shut the hell up and take a back seat for awhile.

See, the best part of me I like an awful lot. He's someone I want to keep around.

And I know that's true for you, too. If you're struggling, it's reset time. Start today.

You can do it.

Motivation thread below in the comments. Use the collective wit, wisdom and support of your fellow morons to straighten your shit out and get back on track.

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posted by Open Blogger at 08:07 PM

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