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Giving Ourselves a Break

I’ve never actually read about a relationship between optimism and fatigue, but I know they are closely tied together. When I am low on energy and sleep, I am also usually very short on positivity and enthusiasm. Long ago, someone told me not to make any big decisions when I was sleep-deprived, but of course my exhaustion in those cases has usually muddled my brain enough that I forget that great advice and blunder through. And then everything seems hard—like trying to walk through three feet of mud wearing rubber boots.

Those are the days when everything looks a little gray and I feel strongly that this is my lot in life—to feel grim and agitated and out of sorts. However things are on days like this is the way they will be forever. At least that’s how it seems when I haven’t slept well, and I haven’t exercised for a few days, and I’ve gained weight, and nothing seems to be going the way I want it to. I don’t even have the wherewithal to sit myself down with a reminder that this is not a good day in which to evaluate everything that has ever happened in my life.

Get rid of the broken record and just breathe for a few minutes.

This was the mood I was in this morning. I spilled my coffee in several places as I made my way back to bed to read the paper. The paper itself was damp because the delivery person left it in the wet driveway. It was cold and dark, and I didn’t feel like going out for a run, or heading to the gym, or anything else that would actually make me feel better about myself and the world around me. I even put on my running clothes but then acted so snippy with Jodi because I was in a bad mood, that we ended up having an argument and I ran out of time to go and run. Talk about self-sabotage.

Then, from across the room, galloped Remy, the new puppy. He jumped up as if he could actually raise himself more than a couple of inches off the ground and gave me a big, sloppy kiss on my cheek when I pulled him into my arms. Suddenly, life seemed better. I was giggling and tickling him on his little pink belly. The grimness evaporated a bit and I could picture managing my way through the day. Even through the busy afternoon, I stopped a few times and looked at Remy’s picture and cracked up. But I knew each time I glanced at the photo of his tiny Corgi nose that the answer to a hard and tiring day is not going out and buying a puppy. It’s really just focusing on something else—something easy and fun and light. Just for a minute. Look away from your own drama, quit repeating the same story in your head, and just do something else.

I tried it later in the day when I was feeling low, and it actually worked. I walked outside my building and looked at the way the clouds were changing. I just let myself pay attention to that instead of repeating all of the doom and gloom I’d been memorizing since I’d awakened on what was surely the wrong side of the bed.

None of this solves any of life’s real problems. I get that. If I need more money or I have to find a different job or I’m in some other difficult situation, looking at some shiny or cute thing for a minute isn’t going to change one iota of those circumstances. But it is going to change my mindset for that few minutes. It’s going to let me reset myself just a little—get rid of the broken record and just breathe for a bit. If I’m tired, like I am today, the break from the self-torture is all the better. It's also going to remind me that things aren't always just one way.

Of all the obstacles we encounter in our lives, our own repeated negativity is probably one of the worst. It feels almost impossible to change it when you’re swimming in it or slogging through it, but find a dog or a blue sky or a good book or a hilarious friend and give yourself that gift. It honestly lifts the weight of our own torment and lets us move ahead unencumbered. And no matter how bad we might be feeling on whatever day, we deserve that freedom any time we can find it.

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