I experienced my first real extended period of doubt last week.
I’m not talking about that short term pang you feel in your stomach at 5AM when you get up for a morning jog or the moment of separation you feel walking by the doughnuts at the coffee shop. I know those feelings and this was not it. This was a deep trough of questioning and apprehension. A real what-the-hell-am-I-trying-accomplish feeling of the severest kind. I stuck with it regardless but it certainly didn’t help the mental and emotional aspects of the journey. That feeling has started to lift now but it did give me pause to try to understand why it happened. When I really put my mind to it, the two things that came were fatigue and stress.
At some point in all of our lives we experience fatigue. For some it is an ongoing byproduct of the lives we live. We get enough sleep to make it though the day and hit the sheets again the next night. I’ve always been an early riser but I’ve never been good at getting to bed early enough to support that habit. Now that Summer has come and the Sun is intruding into my room earlier and earlier every day, I find myself staring at the alarm clock even earlier than normal. I’ve read a couple of sources this week that suggest supporting healthy sleep habits by putting up blackout curtains. I think a pair of those may definitely be in my future. Getting a proper amount of rest though should be the first step. Going to bed at 11 and getting up at 5 is an unsustainable goal over the long term. It’s hard to keep up your emotional and psychological defences when your body isn’t rested properly in the first place.
Stress. Well what can I say about stress that we all don’t already know? Some stress is an important and welcomed part of everyday life. Some stress is unnecessary, misplaced anger at ourselves about our inability to meet someone else’s unrealistic expectations. The good stress, the kind that used to get us revved up enough to run away from the bear in our cave, is in short supply these days. Most of the stress we feel is about things so beyond our control that it’s almost comical when we think about it. When I notice myself getting stressed out about something, I try to pull back and examine the thing in question. I often find myself smirking about it because it amuses me how much I was getting worked up about it. Take this last week for example. This time of year has traditionally been a stressful one for me. The school year is coming to a close. As a telecommuter, this means the kids will be home with me through most of the weekdays. They’ll go out to a program a couple of days a week but otherwise it’s up to me to amuse, entertain, and engage a 4 and 8 year old while working.
You can probably guess why this time of year gets me worked up.
I had occasion though this weekend to pull back from that and realize that I both cherish the company of my boys and that I am much more prepared this year than others for weathering the Summer. The stress started to dissipate immediately. I was stressed about something completely beyond my control and it was almost comical how many cycles in my brain I was spending on it. There is a verse from the Gospel of Matthew I try to remember when I start getting stressed. Regardless of whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Atheist, or otherwise; I think it works for us all:
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? – Matthew 6:27
It’s hard to focus on the positive changes you want to enact in your life when your mind is occupied by stress. Stress uses up those reserves of mental acuity and lets doubt and weakness creep in. Compound that with fatigue and you have a potent brew.
So if you’re sitting there experiencing doubt about why you’re doing this or if the journey is worth it, do this. First, I assure you it is. Better health is always worth the short term pain. Second, go find a quiet place. It can be in your house or out in Nature but make sure it is somewhere you can close your eyes and search yourself. Third, close your eyes and search yourself for the real reasons for doubt. Sure, you love chocolate sour cream glazed doughnuts but is the real reason. Are you tired? Stressed? Worn down by the harassment of co-workers or friends? Work on either mitigating or eliminating whatever as much as is in your control and you will be on your way to eliminating that doubt and getting back on the path. Doubt is rarely just doubt. I learned that this last week. I hope you do too.