When I turn on my shower to heat up the water, I put a jar on the floor. Weird? Maybe. I once read a suggestion to reuse wasted water for household means. The idea stuck with me and the next time I turned on the shower I grabbed a jar. As the water warmed, I watched the jar gather just a few of the many streams of falling liquid. I realized I could use this water on my plants at home and haven’t used fresh water since. When I do this, I’m reminded of how for so many years, so much water has gone to waste.
This month as we focus on wholehearted living, I think about how the jar in a shower serves as a metaphor (humor me...). We can waste a lot of emotional energy and not think twice about it. Or we convince ourselves that the ends justify the water-wasted means.
Like when I spend a whole week being nervous before I fly on a plane. I’ve flown plenty of times safely, obviously, and I know that my anxious energy has ZERO to do with that outcome. A waste of a week of full enjoyment of my life.
Or how I come down on myself when I don’t make it to the gym. For every decision that leads me to less than optimal health, I manage to pile on even more negative consequence with my thoughts.
Or when I’m exhausted and pass by the dirty kitchen on my way up to bed. Rather than embracing my next “to-do” of sleep, I shame myself for a dirty kitchen. A wasted opportunity for peaceful reflection on the day and relaxing into sleep.
Gross. That’s a lot of waste. But I’ve found there are jars.
I will always have nervous thoughts before traveling. But even that description, “I have nervous thoughts”, is different than, “I am nervous”. Our brains are functioned to alert us to perceived threat and somehow I've convinced myself this is one to be aware of. I may not be able to stop the thought but I’ve learned I don’t have to engage it. I can identify what it is, “ok thanks brain, but not needed right now!”, and shift my attention to a new focus. I recommend the book SuperBetter that highlights the power of games to positively shift mental attention. This may not be possible to do on your own and that is when a mental health professional can help.
I’ve started to recognize and congratulate myself when I complete small, positive actions. It surprises me just how silly I felt the first time I thought, "good job!" - I never once felt uncomfortable being critical. If I have to live with myself the rest of my life, do I want a harsh critic or a cheerleader? Now every time I drink an extra glass of water, every morning I make it to the gym, whenever I get the vegetable side, I am mindful to pat myself on the back. It’s positive reinforcement and it’s worked! I feel more content with my lifestyle, engage less in unhealthy behaviors, and feel less negativity when I do. I’ve managed to save some water.
I now take the perspective that most situations are not all or nothing. I will always have more to do than what I believe I have time for (because if I didn’t I would just go looking for more). When I walk by the kitchen, I ask myself, “What can I reasonably do at this time?”. Maybe it’s cleaning five dishes (and I congratulate myself – positive reinforcement!). But if it’s time for sleep – I let it be. I remind myself that the kitchen is messy because I put in the time and effort to cook. I've found I am most productive in the mornings. So if I enter that worry of, “oh no I have way too much to do and not enough time to do it”, I identify a task that I can achieve in 20 minutes. Then I set my alarm for 20 minutes earlier the next day with the goal to get that precise thing done.
The challenging thoughts and stresses are always going to be there. And I’m always going to warm up my shower water (I realize this is a privilege and wasteful). But just the act of putting the jar in the shower has raised my awareness of waste, resulting in shorter showers and seeking other ways to reduce my use of water. The changes I’ve made in my thinking have empowered my role as an advocate to moderate my own "wastes" when it comes to negativity and worry. What new, small change can serve as your jar?