03 January, 2013

New Year Confessions of an Over-Planner

The arrival of a New Year is traditionally a time for making plans and for turning over a new leaf only to find that same leaf has plans of it's own, but if I have learnt one thing from 2012 it is that plans don’t always happen in the way we want them to. Sometimes we can over-plan in order to achieve our perfect vision of the perfect life we want to lead, and we fail to just enjoy what’s right in front of us and the wonderful life we are already living.

I have always said if you have a roof over your head, some money in your pocket and a few good people around you, then you really do have it pretty good and everything else is just detail - I reckon that applies to most people reading this right now. However, knowing that and making the leap to actually feeling that, every day, are two very different things.

As much as I am constantly aware of how lucky I am, I also have a tendency to over-plan in a bid for everything to be 'perfect', I stress about small things and then feel like I have in some way failed when those plans didn't pan out 'perfectly'. I once (very recently) cried ALOT because the smoke alarm went off in my kitchen just as I served up the Satuday Night chilli I had so lovingly made my boyfriend. ‘You don’t understand!’ I wailed as my dreams of a perfect meal were SHATTERED (I am willing to admit there may have been some hormones involved in this particular scenario, but you get the gist). Despite my most startling demeanour, he just said to me ‘I am trying to understand (whilst looking totally perplexed) but really just being with you is enough. Everything else is a bonus. Like the chili...’

In hindsight, this was a hilarious (okay, ridiculous) episode and a definite ‘first world problems’ anecdote on my part (oops!), but what led to my howling in that moment was a mountain of other stresses and strains leading up to it, I was clinging to the chili for dear life to avoid what was actually upsetting me and really the smoke alarm was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Those stresses and strains though were also all just minor aspects of my otherwise fantastically fortunate life, and none of it really mattered.

Something I took away from that little sketch was Gareth’s total ability to see everything beyond his basic needs as a blessing – nothing can ruin his time with me because I am enough. No little imperfections and frustrations can make him miserable of a day because it's not important. I learnt a lot that day and I continue to learn the same lesson as I am blessed to be with surrounded by people who are a such positive inspiration. You cannot plan everything to within an inch of it's life because you'll miss your life and it won’t happen that way, and when it doesn’t you’ll be a bit gutted.

'You learn to build you roads on today, because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for your plans'

Our fear of the future is, I think, what cause us to lay down plans, like guarantees that things will always stay the same, that we won’t suddenly fall into a pit of despair and become one of those miserable people no-one wants to be. But you know what? Plans left unlived and promises broken are far more difficult to bear than the unknown. The unknown should be a thing of excitement and of hope, not of fear. If we fight too hard to make specific things happen, we might find ourselves missing out on the things that are supposed to happen or just the things that are right in front of us, already happening.

I say this somewhat hypocritically, as someone who arrived back to my home post-Christmas and instantly (I am talking within 10 minutes of being in the house) cleared out her wardrobe to make way for new dresses I have planned to buy for upcoming occasions, who threw away old belongings to make space for the new lovely gifts I plan to use this year (namely my Cath Kidston learn to knit kit) and who had already, before New Year's Eve had even dawned, booked and paid for a couple of things that will hopefully see me achieve the things I want - no, need - to by the end of 2013.

All that planning though- that was The Big Things. That was me jumping straight into a New Year, filofax first. I think you need to plan the milestones of your life, as otherwise there is a big chance it will pass you by and that milestone won’t have happened - whether it be joining the gym or opening a savings account, you need to act now. It's the small-time planning I am guilty of over-doing and need to take a giant step back from. I love list-making and am proud of being organised, but I am not a fan of my meticulous mapping out of the entire 48 hours of every weekend, the constant thinking ahead to what comes next even in my happiest moments, the manic need to know with utter certainty what I am doing every day from Monday to Sunday lest I drop the ball and lose control of my life, and ultimately lose everything I have built up. Yeah, I know right, obsessive.

I want to wake up on a Saturday morning (without an alarm) and wonder what am I going to today? Without having written it all down in chronological order the night before. Yeah, that's a Friday night list-making session, awful isn't it? I want to do achieve chilldom! In the same way I run to be fit instead of envying toned celebrities whilst munching on a burger, in the same way I work hard in my professional life to end up where I want to be, in the same way I persevere with writing with the hope someday someone will publish me – in the same way as all that, I need to stop wishing I didn't put myself under so much pressure and start actually not doing it. Hard as it may be to begin with.

I used to be a lot better able to go with the flow than I am nowadays and I think several factors brought me here, not least my chosen career and constant need to be plugged into social media, emails, smartphones, instagram - it's the perils of being a professional multimedia whore. Plus a few other experiences have had me go into productivity overdrive like you wouldn't believe. Ironically, in a bid to build and finely tune all other areas of my life in recent years - my career, my relationships, my home, my body - I forgot the one area in which I really do need some serious self-improvement - my mind and switching it the hell off. In 2012 I started playing netball again (tick), I pretty much stopped drinking (half-tick), I changed jobs and I worked hard at filtering out the crap in my personal life (massive ticks), but I didn't leave any room for just being and as a result despite being very happy, I often find myself stressed and run-down. Learning to find peace of mind is what 2013 is about for me.

So while the rest of the world plans to exercise more, eat less, drink less, be more organised and open their post, I vow to almost do the opposite. Lucky me, you might say? Not really, switching off is equally as tough an endeavour for me as anything you might find hard, and it really does have sometimes worrying side-effects. For starters, letting go in your mind is a lot harder than taking yourself out for a run. It will be a gradual, subconscious process and the second I stop to think about it the second I am letting myself down. God knows it is a long way to there from here, but I am up for the challenge!

Learning R&R in 2013

I have some ideas which I think will help me and might help you too if you have a similar inability to just sit DOWN. I am going to learn about mindfulness, as recommended to me by my boss and courtesy of a book my Dad lent me. I am going to force myself to switch off my emails in the evenings. I have joined the gym so that I can subsidise my more intense exercise with relaxing sports like swimming. I am going to sit on my fidgety little hands when I try to make a list on a Friday night. I am not very good at watching TV by myself as I get bored, but I am going to have a few hours every week where I do something that doesn't involve putting my energy out into the world, but absorbing it. I am by nature a ball of energy, but I need to stop always giving that energy away and save some of it for me, as no-one else will. I will probably still be busy a lot of the time and I don't intend that to change - I still want to do all the things I do and more, because that's who I am and without my energy I wouldn't be me anymore. It's the in between time I am talking about and basically trying not to put so much pressure on myself, because in doing that, I actually hold myself back.

Other than the big things I want to have nailed by this time next year (which I will reveal when they have happened, hopefully by next Christmas!), I don’t have any plans for 2013 because it is a blank canvas and I have all the strength of character and resources I need to paint it happily and in my own perfect way without planning every step. I have no idea what 2013 will be bring day by day, but I do know that because of everything I have already built up – not least my top-notch support network – it is going to be a fantastic year because I have the mental power to allow it to be that way regardless of how the details pan out.

Wish me luck.

(This said, I will continue to write things in my new Filofax a lot because it is ace.)

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