In early January of 2017, I bought myself a new monthly planner for the year ahead. My main motivation was I wanted a different one other than the school academic monthly planner I had used. Every time I used my school planner, there was a visual reminder that I wasn’t there. This was before official retirement when my leave had been extended for the entire school year. I pondered maybe it would be a good step to transition to a different planner.
The first sign that this was good was it only took me about five minutes to choose which new planner I wanted. I grabbed five or six off the shelf at the bookstore and sat down and started comparing them. One was too heavy and had a magnetic snapping cover. It was going to take up a lot of space in my bag. Weekly planners were out because I liked looking at the entire month as a whole. My final two choices were between a planner with a blue floral cover I liked but with very plain inside pages, and a colorful, almost hippie style outside cover, with equally flower power inside calendar pages. It was all very cheerful and bright. I bought the colorful and cheerful planner.
I had bemoaned for months over whether I would continue my leave from school or return to teaching, and here I had been able to make a decision quickly and effectively. Yes, I know my decision concerning work was much more monumental, but it was also stressful. It felt good to make a decision quickly about my planner and know I was happy with my choice.
But there is more to the story. I remained happy about my new planner for days afterward. It became one of my favorite objects. People would ask what was new, and I’d tell them in great detail about my wonderful monthly planner. It was weird and a bit obsessive. Truly, I did have other things going on. Then I figured out why my planner was a source of such joy. The planner was about hope. People who are hopeful make plans and write them down. When I bought my planner, my decision had been made to extend my leave, and I wanted a planner not connected to school while I didn’t work there. I was going to make and keep lots of plans. I did just that.
My calendar has been fuller than ever these past two years. My new planner for 2019 has a few too many things already penciled in for an introvert’s liking. One constant for the coming year will be to fill each day with hope, and maybe try to schedule a little less to balance with my inner peace.
Hope springs up in the most unexpected places. Consider the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I expected a graphic, emotionally hard to read story of Louis Zamperini’s unfailing will to survive and beat all the cruelties of war and imprisonment. Throughout the book, I found myself wondering how in the world he managed to pull through and dodge death for another countless time. What I didn’t expect was to relate much on a personal level because my day-to-day life is so different from what Louis Zamperini lived. His resilience and strength really empowered his spirit. I had that in common with him. About halfway through the book, there was a chapter focused on his family’s beliefs that was powerful. You see, the Zamperini family always felt Louis was still alive after his plane went down and he was assumed dead. His parents still spoke of him in the present tense. This section of the book made me think for weeks about the intersection of hope and belief. Hope was a wish. Belief was a feeling. Belief persevered without proof. If your hope became part of your beliefs that you thought of as true, you then had this awesome force on your side to surround and support you.
Time and time again, I have needed to dig deep into my springs of hope. It happened a lot early into the cancer diagnosis when I was told why surgery or radiation wouldn’t work for me. There have been countless times when I have heard a medical NO, and always one more time than this where I have had to bounce back stronger and more hopeful than before because the hope in my heart said YES. There is often chaos and fear in NO. NO can be a very useful word. NO is a complete sentence all on its own. But here it carries a lot of uncertainty. There is always a path and hope in YES. YES carries lots of belief and promise.
Hope may make all the difference.
You are always welcome to leave a comment below.
What plans are you making?
How is hope part of your belief system?
Some choices are a lot easier to make than others. Choosing the length of a walk on a given day is an easy choice. Ordering a favorite meal at a restaurant is easy. Snuggling up with a good book is an easy choice. Sleeping in is a no brainer.
Other choices are harder. We all face tougher decisions about many things ranging from work, finances, home, relationships, marriage, parenting, and health to name a few.
Giving myself a chance is often the hardest. I can be my own worst critic. It’s easy to support others, and yet I doubt myself with the exact same task I am so confident others can achieve. Sometimes I perceive a physical drawback; other times it’s a mental obstacle of self-doubt, inner criticism, and negative self-talk. The mental obstacle always is present, causing me to question a physical choice. Just as I do physical strength training, I can strengthen my mind.
How do I maintain a strong mind?
I can’t do (insert difficult activity here). Well, what if I could? What would it look like? How would I get there? Why do I think so definitively that I can’t? When my fitness coach asks me for two or three more reps during a workout, I respond that I can do three more and I do. This wasn’t always the case. When I think of all of the reasons why I shouldn’t do something, I have to stop myself and come up with reasons why I should absolutely and unequivocally do it. It isn’t that I have to do something, but rather that I get to do something. Positive self-talk and compassion sends negative thoughts on their way.
If I don’t believe in myself, I’ve already greatly limited my chances to succeed. There are times when it feels like I am the only one believing in me. Being stubborn is usually a great strength of mine that I need to recognize and work to my advantage. I must tell myself that I can and reframe things in the affirmative.
Planning is a huge reason for many of my successes. I am a planner. When I have a plan, success is more likely. Plans used to always work for me. Then cancer threw a wrench into some of those plans and success took a lot more work. Success had to be redefined. I needed a lot more contingency plans and attention to so many details that at times all it seemed I did was planning and plans were never put in motion. Plans so often changed. Then I transitioned into a “plan and adjust phase” where I wouldn’t take it as an automatic failure if Plan A didn’t work out. I would adjust a bit and call Plan B a learning opportunity. I would just keep chipping away at whatever until I found a way to succeed. This still works well for me, although I often feel like I have to work a lot harder to pull off something physical than someone who looks like they’re achieving it effortlessly.
Looks like. I have no idea what effort someone may be making physically or mentally. It also rings true that others do not understand how hard I’m working. We are all the same that way.
As an aside, I would like to state that when my plans change, it isn’t something I want to happen. I want to keep plans, but can’t always make it work. Please don’t take it personally. I’m already too hard on myself when I have to cancel or turn something down in anticipation of side effects I know are coming. I’m working on finding more soft spaces within myself.
Breathing resets my body and gives my mind a reset as well. Maybe it’s just thirty seconds of good, deep, diaphragmatic belly breaths. It’s all I need to remind myself that I am the boss of me, that I am strong, and that I can do it. Meditation has proven health benefits in that it reduces stress, blood pressure, and has sleep benefits. Even a deep sigh with an extra long exhale can trigger the automatic nervous system from being over stimulated to being more balanced.
Music also helps me, whether I need something relaxing and classic, or I’m in the mood for more current hits. Do country roads take you home? Is it all rock and roll to you? Does Bach have your back? Fine, fine, I’ll stop (in the name of love). The point is to have music available that you love and that suits what you need. Music expresses emotions and works with parts of the brain in ways that words alone do not.
Movement resets both my mind and body. Sometimes I think exercise really does more for me emotionally than physically. Even though there is a chill in the air, the cold, fresh air makes me feel alive. Not too long ago, I took a walk in one of my favorite places on a very windy day. A slight mist became heavier. I didn’t care. In fact, I absolutely loved it and knew it was exactly where I needed to be. There’s also a correlation to walking faster which helps keep my heart happy. Although it sounds counterintuitive, moving around lessens fatigue. It may feel like the last thing I want to do. Exercise helps clear mental fog and I feel better overall when I’ve finished.
Having cancer compounds negative chatter all the more. It can step in instantly when something doesn’t work out and tries really hard to stop me. There is no room for that kind of chatter if I am to maintain my strong mind. And I am. I just need to keep giving myself the chance I know I deserve.
And so do you. We are all the same that way, too.