My Secret to Keeping it Together: Dream Big, Act Small

So you’re sick of excuses, I’m sick of excuses, we’re all sick of excuses… but this semester (my last semester of undergrad, incidentally) is testing me in ways I had not anticipated. Between awesome, but intensive classes (LGBT Development, Women Writers, and Web design… yes please!) and all of the wonderful Women’s Center projects left to wrap up before I graduate… well, all know the story, but you’re here for a blog post… so lets go!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask me: how do you manage to get everything done? Its a fair question. I don’t seem to have the ability or the desire that other people do when it comes to saying “no.” Nine times out of ten if someone presents an opportunity to me, I take it despite the fact that I know my plate is already pretty damn full. Given the fact that I have serious issues regulating anxiety in even the most tranquil of situations, this seems ridiculous. And yet, I tend to manage just fine.

Why is that? Because I know that if something is intimidating, I’m just not thinking small enough.

Take my last week of classes as an example; finishing two essays, 100+ pages of reading, designing two web pages and prepping for a big job interview in just five days seemed impossible to me when I first considered it. Then, I broke it down. For this particular situation it made the most sense to take an index card and break it into the number of days I had left. Once that was done I filled in all of the social commitments and distractions that I already knew about. Based on how much time was left in each day I set myself goals like: two hours working on website or read 50 pages of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan with a small box next to it to be checked off when I was done.

I taped this list in my mirror and constantly reminded myself to focus on just one day at a time.

Five days of fun and work later and I was done (and ready to be lazy for the weekend!)

My wonderful to-do list for the past week. (via Spongebob!)

This simple “trick” of breaking things down works for everything.

Getting from being a [fill in your undergraduate] major to being a [dream job] can seem intimidating as anything, unless you break it down. Figure out what classes you need to take, what graduate programs (if any) you need to get into, what entry level jobs you need to try, who you need to meet, and so on… just break down all of the steps between you and your goal and then focus, one step at a time.

Achieving [that huge project that you’ve been dreaming of for ages] can seem impossible, unless you break it down. Write out your idea, then figure out what you are missing that is keeping you from having achieved that idea. Break it down into small steps that go from where you are now to where you want to be. Its okay if some of the steps are missing when you start out, after all you may still need to do some research (a step!) to give yourself direction.

Getting through [those awful chores that you hate] can seem much less crummy if you break things down into smaller steps and give yourself plenty of little rewards each time you get one done!

I think you get the point.

The beauty of this trick is that it works for everyone because you can tailor it to fit your exact needs! (Different sized steps, lists on paper or computer, etc.)

Miscellaneous Tips

  1. You can go as small as you want, but I find that I feel best when I break things into day-sized steps. That way you feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of each day!
  2. Scheduling in small breaks (a cup of tea, a trip to the movies, a chapter in a fun book, etc.) in between steps can help to keep you insane, especially if you are operating on a packed schedule for an extended period of time.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be flexible. Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, is a popular saying for a reason. A well broken-down list of steps can be helpful to keep you moving towards your goals, but don’t ever be afraid to cross something out (or throw the whole thing out all together!) if life starts to lead you in a new direction.
  4. If you are easily prone to stress, consider blocking each day out on its own sheet of paper. This way you only have to look at today.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up! If you get overwhelmed and spend an hour or two absentmindedly scrolling through tumblr or watching Wife Swap when you should be working, its OKAY. Any time spend moping and feeling like a failure for being distracted is just MORE time wasted, so commend yourself for taking time for self-care and then get back to work!
  6. Recognize when something is good enough. Sure, you could spend another how making sure your essay is EXACTLY 8 pages… or you could get some sleep. If you’re anything like me, letting yourself stop when a project is done is half the battle but mastering this skill will make your life so much easier!

So after writing this I did a quick Google search and found out that I am not so original :P For the record, this post was not inspired by the book of the same name (I just found out it exists!) but I plan to find the time to check the book out now… I’ll report back! (A version of this post also aired on Persephone awhile back, but I’ve made some edits and added some tips before posting it here!)

What We Talk About When We Talk About Eating Disorders

As a psychology student, I understand why psychologists feel that labels and standards are important; however, as a woman who knows many people who struggle with disordered eating (including myself) I hate the way the psychology community treats eating disorders.

For instance, one woman in the comments of an article I read* has gone through several diagnoses, from anorexic to exercise bulimic to EDNOS**, depending on which doctor was treating her at the time; because she felt as if the psychiatric community could not help her figure out conclusively what was wrong with her this woman ended up alienated from therapy and, thus, forced to heal largely on her own. This is not good.

Eating Disorder diagnosis and standards are useful tools; they help psychologists to have a universal understanding of what a patient is going through, for one, and they also help people to figure out what they are suffering from and how to begin treatment. However, the strict category model currently used by the DSMIV is also incredibly problematic.

I have friends and relatives who have struggled with disordered eating. For that matter, I’ve struggled with a disordered relationship to food off and on for my whole life. If there’s one thing I know, its this: no two people with an eating disorder look or act the same. Eating disorders, at least in my opinion, are a lot less about behaviors and a lot more about mental processes. What do I mean by that? It’s simple.

Lets take Weight Watchers as an example. A person who has a healthy relationship with their body and food can go on Weight Watchers and lose weight without losing themselves; that’s not necessarily true of someone with an eating disorder. The last time I went on Weight Watchers I did it for a week and three days exactly before I quit and never looked back. I did this because I knew the way I was behaving was not healthy: I was obsessing over food, making graphs and calculating points for hours each of those days, I was pushing myself to eat less and less points each day, and I felt horrible if I ate up to my points limit for the day. Essentially, my thought processes behind the healthy diet became incredibly unhealthy. I wasn’t eating a dangerously high or dangerously low amount of food, nor was I exercising excessively… what I was doing was obsessing, and hurting myself with my own thoughts. I may not have had an eating disorder in the traditional sense, but I certainly needed guidance to help me rectify my disordered thinking about food.

Most people I know have a story like mine; many of them have stories much more intense then mine. I was lucky, my experience ended fairly positively as I found a therapist who could help me feel comfortable with my body and my food choices, and my parents found a way to finance that therapy. Unfortunately, due to strict insurance policies and even stricter diagnosis guidelines many people’s stories do not end like mine.

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