I have always known that I was secretely lazy. Don’t get me wrong–I’m a very hard and responsible worker when outside factors are pushing me, like school, or a job. I’m a performance and approval driven person (and trying to get over it . . .), so if there’s a boss or teacher who needs to be pleased, I will do whatever it takes to get the job done. However, when it comes to motivating myself to do things that only I may care about . . . that’s another story. Earlier this year I journaled about it–I had just joined the gym near our apartment and was contemplating my new life of regular exercise:
“I want the infusion of energy that regular exercise brings, but this is also a chance to exercise discipline over myself–because with no external motivation, I appear to be naturally lazy. This was reinforced 2 weekends ago when my frustration about the state of our apartment was driving me mad–the mysterious brown piece at the back of the microwave, the 3 spots on the kitchen flor, the loose thread hanging from our library chair . . . so I had a small breakdown and threw myself into an emotionally charged, frenzied cleaning. At the root of it was the frustration I felt with myself for letting all these little things nag away at my soul and yet failing to take action! I was amazed at my laziness and appalled that I hadn’t just taken care of those things when they first bothered me. Most of them took a minute tops to put aright.”
My resolution after writing all this down was to do what I want. It sounds selfish initially, but with a deeper reading you’ll see that it’s really about self-control and discipline. If I truly want a lovely, clean home, I should be faithful to that desire and follow through to make it happen. It’s a way of being true to myself. I still struggle with it, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve found it helpful to identify what my true and deep desires are, and then to commit myself to working towards them to the best of my ability. For example, I want to be cute and sexy at home. I have a secret fear of becoming an unkempt wifely mess at some point in my life (greasy hair, soiled bathrobe, possibly fleas and/or lice) and I truly want to look as best as I can for my husband. However, my tendency is to throw on that pair of baggy, disgusting sweat pants that are now about 10 years old. I don’t know why I gravitate towards them–I just do (does anyone else have this problem?). So what is more important? My desire to please my husband (which also helps my own self esteem) and be the cute and attractive wife? Or my desire to feel the comforting existence of those pants surrounding me in all their baggy glory on a daily basis? I need to weigh my desires and choose the ‘true’ or greater one, and pursue that.
On a tangent, I’m not saying baggy sweatpants have no place in a marriage, or that wives shouldn’t dress to please themselves as well, or that being sexy and comfy aren’t compatible–hopefully you see the point beyond the example. Your case could, in fact, be the opposite–you feel oppressed by what you think you should look like and trapped by a sense of obligation to your spouse, and wearing those sweatpants could be a move towards freedom for you! Let each woman (or man! No discrimination against male readers!) know herself.
This also means that you have to have a good understanding not only of what your deep desires are, but how they relate to each other. Many times I have to prioritize one over another. I’ll give a kind of obvious example: I desire to be a good homemaker and have a clean, beautiful, peaceful house. However, I also value hospitality. I grew up in a very open and welcoming home, and I greatly admire my Mom’s ability to randomly take in large groups of people on very short notice, or take in a stranded person for Christmas who doesn’t have any family close by–and to do it all with a smile and a genuine enthusiasm and love for her guests. Large batches of homemade pizza, big pots of Pozole, or a paella were whipped up in the kitchen, beds were made, fresh towels laid out. Let’s be honest–hosting a large group can mean your house will soon become a messy, chaotic place (though I have high hopes of discovering the top-secret workaround to this otherwise universal truth via the Martha Stewart magazine). I desire to be hospitable, and I desire a clean and orderly home–the two desires in this example are in conflict. At that point I have to examine them and say ‘which is more important to me?’ And for me, hospitality trumps order. It’s more important for me to take in the 6 woebegone friends who are stranded in Chicago because their flights were canceled than to turn them down but keep my house clean and perfect. I would prefer to have luggage strewn all over, blankets layering the entire span of the livingroom, and a precarious pile of blow-up mattresses, than to have peace and quiet and not extend the hand of love to these friends.
This is hypothetical, since (unfortunately) no friends of ours have been stranded in Chicago. But I secretely hope that someday we’ll get a ‘freebie’ visit via living so close to an international airport.
I read a rule in a book called “The Happiness Project.” The rule essentially states that if it takes less than 1 minute to complete a certain task, you shouldn’t put it off. I think this little rule is extremely helpful, because it eliminates all the clutter of tiny things that you tend to leave undone until they’ve accumulated into One Massive Task. For example, last night my husband and I snuggled under a blanket on the couch. We watched a movie, drank tea, and then headed to bed. I knew that leaving the blanket on that couch in a messy pile was just going to depress me the next day when I encountered the ‘chaos’ in the morning light. I could have chosen to leave it because I was tired and just wanted to crawl into bed–but instead, I reminded myself “this will take 20 seconds tops”, folded the blanket, and felt much better about the general state of things both that night and the next morning. The mysterious piece of brown something in the back of the microwave that I journaled about took all of 10 seconds to wipe out and throw away–but I let it bug me every time I opened that microwave for over 3 weeks. I hereby proclaim that next time, I will simply grab a paper towel and deal with it on the spot.
It’s surprising how quickly those little details (especially the ones that relate to the house) can get under my skin and make me irritable. The 1-minute rule has been really helpful to me, and I hope it will be for you, too. But this little trick is part of a greater lesson that involves knowing your heart and pursuing what you truly desire with all your strength.