Avoiding Decision Fatigue

Think about the last time you had to make a decision. Was it a little one (which coffee brand should I buy) or a large one (should I get a new job)? Did you ever actually make the decision? Are you still standing at the grocery store weighing the benefits of the fair trade direct coffee vs. the locally roasted company vs. the coffee you actually like the best vs. the coffee that best fits within your budget? Are you secretly hoping you’ll get fired so you won’t have to ever affirmatively decide to quit your job?

Sometimes decisions bog us down so much that we stop moving forward and we get stuck in our lives, in our moods, and in our stress. Here’s some questions to ask (and answer!) that will help make decision-making easier, especially when your mood is saying “I need to do everything at once, be the best person possible, and do it all without ever leaving my bed…”

Step One: Ask yourself, “What do I need?”

Not, am I hungry or am I sleepy, but as a human being, what do I need to… be me? Perhaps the answer is too big to easily fit into words right away. Write them down! For example, I need to feel confident (inside and out), have deep purpose in what I’m doing, feel challenged, and feel like I’m making a difference. That’s a lot of things. So, boiled down, I recognized I need to feel glamorous.

So, what do you need? Do you need to feel loved, be well-read, be well fed, feel feminine, feel masculine, feel worthy?

Step Two: Apply it!

Now, how does needing to feel glamorous help me make decisions? Check it out:

(a) Should I eat a bag of chips by myself at night while binge-watching TV shows? No, binge eating and binge watching is not glamorous. But, getting a good night sleep is!

(b) Should I volunteer on Saturday when I signed up for it (on a day when I was in a good mood) even through right now I’m cranky and depressed and want to hide in bed all day? Yes, I should! Why? Because philanthropy is glamorous (just look at Audrey Hepburn’s second career if you had any doubts!). Because I will feel more glamorous and satisfied at the end of the day, my decision was made for me.

(c) Should I change my career? Well, if I felt glamorous in my job, but had a couple bad days, then maybe the answer should have been no. But, if I’ve continuously not felt glamorous or am exhibiting behaviors that make me feel decidedly un-glamorous (like coming in late or hungover or feeling bored and useless or constantly like jumping out of a window), then yes, I should change my career, or at least my current position.

No, it’s not foolproof, but starting with “at my essence, what do I need” will help you move forward when your mood would otherwise prevent it.

So Many Grains of Salt

“Take their advice with a grain of salt…”

“Take this with a grain of salt, but…”

So. Many. Grains. Of. Salt. Who are we supposed to listen to any more? Who is equipped to give us character-critiquing advice that will grow into a future investment of character enhancement when we follow it?

According to the internet: Everybody! Even if you avoid reading comments, getting into social media arguments, and just plain mind your own business, the most current trend on the internet should be titled, “You’re doing it wrong and how to do it better.” Sometimes, it’s more like, “You’re doing it wrong and I do it better.” It comes in the form of ads. It comes on well-intentioned Medium articles. It comes without packages, boxes, or bags…(sorry Dr. Seuss).

But, what if you don’t want to hack your life, you just want to live it? What if you’re not doing it wrong but you want to make sure you don’t filter out everyone’s two cents

My #3 reason to listen to advice: That person is paying me or relying on me for my work. For real. If I need to work on my work ethic, if it comes from my boss, I’ll take it into consideration. Bonus points if their feedback is constructive and somewhat guides me into performing better. If a client has true concerns regaring my attentiveness or work, I’ll take it into consideration. Bonus points if they recognize the difference between working miracles and fixing the world and providing actual, constructive pointers, such as, “You seem a little distracted today, can you please focus on what I’m trying to tell you?” to which I’d answer, “Thank you. I’ll take more care in making sure you feel heard.”

My #2 reason to listen to advice: That person is especially kind or interesting. I used to joke that “nice” isn’t a personality. But, I’ve learned that often people who seem boring at first are just incredibly reserved and, they can also be incredibly kind. Hanging out with kind people and asking them advice on how to be kinder is an incredible experience. Same for listening interesting people: if their writing or artwork or science work or legal writing or personal philosophy knocks your socks off, then YES YES YES take their advice! If the person addressing your character is just another person in charge who’s rude or arrogant or you feel like they should deserve respect because they’ve “done a lot of things…” then maybe that advice isn’t worth listening to. After all, why would you want to listen to someone who’s mean or doesn’t listen to what you have to say because they think they’re more qualified to be a human than you? After all, would you take the advice of 100% of the presidents of the US? (Rhetorical question, really, but…)

My #1 reason to listen to advice: They’re my person. Note: If the human(s) in your life are constantly picking on you and your actions and you’re worried that you’re not yourself anymore, this is not for you. If you’re in an overbearing relationship, please consider talking to someone confidentially about your options.

But for those of us pretty sure we’re with our soulmates: You know the rules. Don’t change your core interests for your partner, don’t let them erase your vibrancy… but.. allow yourself to grow together. If they’re concerned about your drinking or constant lateness to work or if they tell you that you overshare when you’re hanging out with mutual friends, take it into consideration. The same way you’d hope that if you said, “Hey, I notice that when people ask us how we’re doing, you answer and then rush into the conversation before I get to answer, too,” you’d hope they’d say, “Wow, I’m sorry, I’ll try not to do that anymore,” and then… they change their behavior. That’s what having a person is all about. It’s a two-way street. I take the advice because I know they have my best interests in mind, and because…love.

Seriously, though, that’s it. If someone who’s constantly rude tells you you’re [insert insult here], or acts superior because they have more letters after their name than you do, you have permission to ignore it. If you’re reading an article and they’re sure you’re doing it wrong because they have all the answers… Maybe they do, but are they insulting you, the reader, while they profess their profound knowledge of the meaning of life? Gross. Walk away!

Side note: I intentionally left out family members. No one comes from the same kind of home, so you’ll have to use your salt shaker there.

A Note on Fitting In

When you don’t fit in

When you don’t fit in with not fitting in

When you love independent French films but your comfort movie is Forrest Gump

When you burn incense but wear Chanel

When you buy fair trade-organic but prefer cane sugar to agave

When you write poetry and paint pictures but you’re studying for the bar

When you listen to punk, but you love ELO … and Violeta Parra, too, for that matter

When you’re nerdy but not naturally studious

When you love reading literature but hate the canon

When you prefer whiskey but will drink a Cosmo, or a beer, if the time is right

When you overshare or under-share or are too introverted or not introverted enough

When you’re too basic but you’re too quirky and yet you’re somehow not quirky enough

When you love something deeply, but have other interests

When you care about style but you’re never in vogue

When you love vintage but aren’t a slave to the look

When you’re comfortable with your sexuality, but it’s not really anyone else’s business

When you’re not actually fat or movie-star thin

When you have a disability but you’re a regular person, too

When you see something of yourself in everyone, but you have yet to find your people

When you’re fiercely independent, but remain a hopeless romantic

When you’re a free spirit, but you’re not chained to being free

I Finally Figured Out Eating

“Look at that belly.  Do you want a belly like that?”  Although it has been over twenty years, my mom’s words still sting sometimes.  I had a stomachache that afternoon and my mom had caught me with pudding on my face (a friend gave it to me during lunch and I was a messy slob of a child who always forgot to wash her face after eating).  It was my little brother’s birthday and because I had eaten the forbidden pudding, I was not allowed to eat a pastel-colored homemade snickerdoodle. 

“You can have two sweets, but that’s all, and if you have one of those big cookies, that counts as two” my mom warned me at Christmastime, as I watched both my brothers get thirds and fourths of every cookie, pie, and chocolate bonbon that our relatives had brought over.  I was seven and we were at our aunt’s house.  I didn’t know what I’d done wrong.    

“You don’t need to eat that much if you’re not going to work out,” my dad would say.  

When I was in high school, mom bought me a scale and told me I looked like I weighed 125 pounds.  I’m not sure what that means, but when I got on the scale, I weighed 112 pounds.  Mom weighed herself and at 5’6’’, she weighed 107 pounds.  “Hmmm, maybe it’s broken,” Mom said as she went to get an unopened box of kitty litter to check the weight shown on the scale against the weight listed on the package.  The scale was accurate.  I was told to weigh myself once a week in the morning before I ate breakfast. 

I stopped eating sandwiches in sixth grade because I was afraid of getting fat.  I would basically starve myself between school and swim practice and then eat too much at suppertime and feel sick because I couldn’t not eat and swim for two hours a day.  “Suck in your gut.”  “Nat the fat.”  “Well, it ain’t over til the fat lady sings” “Sing, Natasha.” “Oh, hahaha, that’s not very nice.”  In short, food became some weird, treacherous creature that I was supposed to avoid at all costs.  Even in college, I used to get annoyed that I would get hungry and I couldn’t survive on coffee alone. 

When I was in my early-twenties, I made a scrapbook of my high school days.  I caught a picture of me at age 16 with other girls from the cross-country team.  What’s odd is, I wasn’t just not fat, I was muscly and objectively thin.  I looked great.  What’s even worse is, I don’t actually care whether I am fat or thin, as long as I am capable of achieving what I wish to achieve.  I had spent so much time regurgitating my parents’ values that I had ignored my own. 

Law school, with pizza, stress, and more pizza, caused me to gain a lot of weight.  30 pounds, to be exact.  Guess what happened?  Nothing.  My fiancé still loved me.  My clothes didn’t fit, but buying new ones wasn’t the end of the world.  Because I missed my old clothes and my circulation was getting a little bad, I tried losing weight a few times and yo-yoed because it’s true: diets are not a long-term solution.  I didn’t believe it until all the weight I lost in fall crept back with a vengeance by spring and I had to rethink my strategy. 

In a bind, I looked up what classic movie stars used to eat.  Enticed by titles such as “Audrey Hepburn Didn’t Diet,” I took notes.  Mostly, I learned that many of those lovely, thin ladies died of cancer because the forty cigarettes they smoked a day curbed their appetites. 

It took eight months of trial and error, and a lot of internet research and some failed calorie-counting attempts, but I finally took the mystery out of eating.  Turns out, you need to eat.  And, you need to eat carbs and protein and fruit and veggies and chocolate… I eat breakfast.  Lunch.  Snacks.  Pasta and cheese for supper.  No, I don’t weigh what I did in high school, but I’m a lot healthier.  And, I have a lot more space in my head to worry about other things, like how I’m going to get a job after I graduate so I can actually afford to eat!

No, I don’t blame my parents for my eating issues.  I can imagine the chain of beliefs surrounding food and body image passed down from their own parents that went into their upbringings.  I can’t make my mom see that fatness doesn’t make a person weak, and I can’t stop her from skipping lunch because “she has a headache.”  What I can do, however, is make sure any children I have feel comfortable around food.  I want to teach them to eat when they’re hungry and not to eat when they aren’t.  I want them to know that food is nourishment, not punishment or reward.  Gaining weight and losing weight is part of life.  Mostly, I want them to know that if they finish all the food on their plate, that’s okay, and if they don’t, that’s okay, too.  Because, whatever they look like, they will be gorgeous, inside and out.


The Rules We Did Not Follow

I got a maid fired when I lived in Nicaragua.  Tania and I told each other secrets.  She taught me to do my laundry using a washboard.  She invited me over to her house where I met her family and we ate mangoes in the sunshine before the tropical rain bore down so hard we fled to her cousins’ house/storefront to escape the water pellets God had to offer that afternoon. Tania peeled my mangoes for me because she was afraid I was too delicate to use a knife.  She teased me for getting fungus on my fingers after I bathed in rainwater.  She was a year younger than me and had a three-year old daughter.  By the end of that summer, she was pregnant again, and she and her husband were so excited.  The summer of 2008 – remember when the world had hope?  Nicaraguan friends told me how excited they were that I would get to vote for Obama. 

At first we were really careful to keep our friendship under lock and key.  A clandestine smile here, an encouraging “que linda” there… but then the whispers turned into chatting and soon enough the children of the house began to notice.  (Side note: during my stay at this family’s house, the cook named Susana, a really great lady who taught me to dance bachata, was fired after not making it to the house one day due to torrential rains that washed out half the streets in the city.  I asked about Susana to the doña of the house and the doña straight up told me, “Oh, Susana doesn’t like to work, she would rather be a prostitute.”  About a month later, I ran into Susana on the street while I was walking to my internship – she was safe and had gotten a job as a cook with nicer people.  We caught up, thankfully, and got to make our peace.)  Anyway, once the children started noticing our friendship, they made comments. “You shouldn’t talk to Tania because she’s supposed to be working.”  Tania and I knew we were being watched.  I neglected to mention that while we chatted, Tania was changing sheets, doing laundry, washing floors, and otherwise staying busy.

The first time I went to Tania’s home, we left the doña’s house at different times and met on the street corner to catch the bus.  Everyone stared at me.  The men flirted with me.  The ladies told the men to shut the hell up and asked me how I liked Nicaragua.  The second time I went to Tania’s, we left together, but got caught at the door.  “Where are you going?  Why would you go there?”  We guiltily ran out the door, trying not to laugh that we’d made the doña so angry. 

The new cook, Elena, who I’d also befriended, told me she’d lined up a new job for the end of summer and Tania should do the same.  They were both getting fired for being friendly with me, but the doña wanted to keep up appearances while I was there.  I’d paid to stay there for the remainder of the summer and had no funds to move elsewhere – even if I did, it wouldn’t save their jobs and I wouldn’t have gotten my money back. 

I wasn’t friends with Tania to “rescue” her or to “save” her or because I “felt guilty” for being white.  I was friends with her because she was 19 and I was 20 and we both liked dancing and were a bit chistosa.  More than a bit.  But, by accepting her friendship, I broke the rules.  Upper-class people in Nicaragua have rules about who talks to whom and with what tone and who eats in the kitchen and who eats on a bench in the hallway in the back of the house.  I was given a handbook on what to do with my toilet paper when I was done using it, but not warned about keeping up appearances in this class-based culture.  Still, I take responsibility.  White people, like Jamie McAllen in Mudbound, don’t follow the rules because they think the rules won’t be enforced where they are concerned.  Jamie wasn’t friends with Ronsel Jackson to save him, Jamie was friends with Ronsel because they were the only two World War II soldiers who returned to the godforsaken Mississippi farm they lived on.  But, Jamie broke the rules and hung out with Ronsel because Jamie didn’t truly believe his actions applied to the rules of segregation.  And, Ronsel paid the price for Jamie’s arrogance.  A note about white people: we’re arrogant.  Even in kindness, even in the depths of my friendship with Tania, when she took me shopping at places where I wouldn’t get ripped off for being a stupid gringa and I bought her clothes for her daughter in return, I was arrogant.  I believed nothing would happen to her because, why would the rules apply to me?

When I left Nicaragua, I gave Tania my leftover shampoo and eyeliner and she gave me some makeup to remember her by.  She left the house carrying a paper bag.  The doña suspiciously asked Tania what she was carrying.  Tania said I had given her some things to take home.  The doña glared but let her walk away.  It’s been over ten years and I still have the eye shadow Tania gave me.  It’s a reminder for me to (quoting Michelle Obama here), “be better.” 

I’ve always said you have to break the rules in order to learn them.  But, what if, just what if, we believed the rules applied to us, too?  American exceptionalism has led white people to believe we are the exception to the rules of society around us.  Of course, many rules need to be kicked into the abyss only history can offer.  However, Rosa Parks did not break the rules because she did not believe they applied to her.  She broke the rules thoughtfully, intentionally, and delightfully on purpose. She broke the rules not just for herself, but for humanity.  I hope one day I can say the same. 

Tania y yo (September 2008)

Tania y yo (September 2008)

A Note on Moving Forward

Unless you are a complete narcissist, take comfort in knowing that no one will hate you as much as you hate yourself.  Walk around in your own skin freely knowing that no matter how many times someone glowers at you for existing, their sentiment cannot possibly be worse than whatever your brain conjured up for you at three o’clock this morning when you couldn’t sleep.  I know this and I’ve made a lot of apologies in my life.  I’ve made apologies for being manic, for being depressed, for getting obnoxious, for reading the wrong signals, for mistakes I’ve made.  BUT, over time, I’ve made fewer apologies.  Not because I’ve turned into a “take me as I am or leave me be” type, but because, at some special point in my life, I started learning from my mistakes.  Whoever said, “never make the same mistake twice” forgot the humanity involved in mistake-making.  Usually, the first time a mistake is made, it is hardly apparent it was a mistake and one chalks it up to experience.  The second time that same mistake is made, acknowledge it as a mistake, but what is the lesson learned?  After that pesky third mistake, one can really start identifying the risk factors involved in making that mistake again, and start taking precaution.  I’ve found, however, that many of my mistakes involve ME, MYSELF, and I, that is, inherent personality flaws that are so much harder to ignore than the irritating experiences I wish I could have a do-over for. 

Note: Although this is not a self-help blog, it is not not meant to carry tidbits of advice.  Below is a three-step recipe for making peace with your personality flaws. 

Revelation One.  Repeat after me: “I am not perfect.”  Sure, no one actually thinks they’re perfect (see self-loathing point above), but we do act like we think we’re perfect.   Example: when someone attempts to navigate us to safer shores, we push back.  We don’t need to lose weight because others should accept us for who we are.  We don’t need to reign in our large personalities because if we’re offending anyone, that’s their problem.  Or, even more telling, when someone else has lost a lot of weight, their homeschooled child speaks four languages fluently, and they post pictures on social media of their healthy meal prep for the entire week, our first response is, “well, that’s great for them, but I… (rattle off list of reasons why what you do is perfect for you).”  It’s true, we deserve to be accepted at whatever stage we are at in life.  It’s also true that we’ve built our lives around what works for us. However, we also deserve for life to get better.  We owe it to ourselves to better ourselves and be the best person possible to get the most out of life.  In today’s world, it is all too easy to call other people idiots because they have a different perspective than you.  A thousand people will “like” your opinion, creating false validation that you are the correct party in an argument.  I’ve fallen prey to that mindset, too.  I’ve also complained that my fellow law students were aggravating because of the idiot questions they asked in class and why were they even in law school if they couldn’t figure out such an easy concept (newsflash, they probably got better grades than me because they weren’t too afraid to ask questions!)  Bottom line, recognizing that we have room for improvement is the singular best way to get that motivation groove going. 

Revelation Two.  Repeat after me: “I accept my imperfections.”  Sit with me on the couch for a moment as I type this instead of doing my law school homework due tomorrow.  My dog is sleeping contentedly next to me.  What would he say about me?  That I take too long in the mornings before taking him out for his constitutional.  That sometimes I get so wrapped up in my bar prep assignments that it can be an hour before I notice dinnertime has passed.  He also probably notices I can’t make the rain stop, either.  But, he still gets excited to see me when I come home.  He still rolls over on his back for belly rubs whenever he wakes up.  And, he wags his tail whenever I walk into the room, even if I’ve been gone for a matter of minutes. My imperfections as a dog mom don’t outweigh his love for me.  He doesn’t even know I have bipolar disorder.  All he knows is that whatever there is between us, it is enough. 

Accepting ourselves also includes accepting mistakes we’ve made and mistakes we’re most likely going to make again.  I’d get manic, I’d get drunk and excited and flirty and oh ye gads what was that stranger doing in my bed the following morning.  Why was I hungover on a Tuesday.  Why did my Audrey Hepburn gloves come off to reveal a rampant, sex-crazed Marilyn Monroe every time my mood got a spring in its step.  I accept it as part of who I was, but I also acknowledge that part of me was not my best self.  I accept that when I get depressed, I sit in front of my computer and stream television shows I have memorized over and over again while reading self-help articles online without putting in any effort to actually feel better.  

 I also accept that if I weren’t a total weirdo, my fiancé might not have fallen in love with me, or my friendships might be less successful.  Although often a hindrance to integrating well with “society,” my imperfections created the monster I am today, and I am grateful. 

Revelation Three.  Repeat after me: “I will strive for perfection.”  Wait, WHAT!?  Yes, you heard yourself correctly.  Since we’re all imperfect, there is room for improvement!  Be nicer.  Educate yourself on something you know nothing about.  Listen to a viewpoint you disagree with without interrupting.  Surround yourself with others who are nothing like you.  So what if you’re a C student.  Strive for a B- and be dammed if it doesn’t make you feel good to improve a bit.  The catch is, you will never be perfect.  I will never be perfect.  We will never achieve perfection.  But, once we step off of our soap-boxes, stop making moral arguments, and stop patting ourselves on the back for being “better” than other people, then we start allowing ourselves to truly see how we can improve upon ourselves and begin moving forward.