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Fresh Perspective

Last night, after a wonderful, relaxing extended holiday with family, Evan and I returned to a house that was, in a word, freezing.

photoIce inside the windows…not a good sign.

Sometime while we were gone, the heat stopped working. We have an old (drafty) house with old equipment, and apparently a draft had caused the pilot light to go out. I have no real idea of how long ago that happened – all I know that is that the temperature was already lower than the lowest setting on the thermostat, and with the sun going down, it was only going to continue to drop.

After our attempts at being handy and fixing the issue ourselves failed, we bit the bullet and called the heating company for a last minute (expensive) emergency visit. They informed us they would send someone out – but that it’d be a least an hour.

I was immediately annoyed. At Evan. At myself. At our crappy old house. At my inability to control everything. At the fact that this wasn’t exactly the wonderful “Welcome back to Vermont!” homecoming I had envisioned. My thoughts quickly went from “this is a minor inconvenience” to panic mode:

OMG we’re going to freeze. Our pets are going to freeze. And then our pipes will freeze and burst and our house will be destroyed and we’ll have nowhere to live and it’s freezing out and I can’t feel my toes or stop shivering, and why isn’t the stupid heat starting up?? Get me out of here!!

Obviously not the most productive reaction to an already crummy situation.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to be a bit dramatic in uncomfortable situations…or in situations that don’t quite live up to my ideal expectations. This character flaw has been with me since I was a kid. I would put such high expectations on things that when they didn’t turn out exactly the way I had originally pictured, I’d be disappointed and upset. Instead of finding the positives in a situation gone awry, I would count the entire thing as a failure.

This sort of dichotomous thinking (where things in my head were either classified as “all good” or “all bad”) doesn’t really get you very far in life. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, just as most situations are not completely bad. Life is not black and white – it’s full of grey area. And learning to accept and live in that grey area is an important part of growing up.

I have worked hard throughout most of my adult life to escape this tendency for dichotomous thinking. To embrace the grey area. But in certain situations, I still find myself focusing on the negative – and letting one negative experience shape how I view the bigger picture.

Take this past year, for example. Every year has its ups and downs, but in truth 2012 was probably the best year of my life. I got engaged, planned a wedding, moved to Vermont (a place I have wanted to live my entire life), spent the month of June celebrating my wedding with all the people I love most in this world and traveling to the Caribbean, started a new life with Evan, gained a ton of extra free time (which has its advantages and disadvantages, I’ll admit), hiked and ran around Vermont, traveled all over visiting friends and family, ran 2 amazing relays, an unplanned marathon, and a few other fun races. I have faced more change this year than any other in recent history. That in and of itself is a pretty exciting accomplishment.

grafton_inn_wedding_ponds

But for awhile, I didn’t really see it that way. Instead, I focused on the many months of running I missed due to my stupid injury and the time it took me to get back into shape. I thought of the lofty running goals I set and how I didn’t reach any of them. I thought about how I didn’t PR in any distance, or really improve at all. And I thought about how I lost a really good job and became (for the most part) unemployed. How I’ve had a really hard time finding full time work here and how stressed I allow myself to get over the fact that I am doing little to contribute to the family financially. I focused on these shortcomings and got ready to write 2012 off as a frustrating year, ready to get to 2013 and start over.

It looks so silly when I type it out. So melodramatic and immature. Fortunately I can say that all it took was a little bit of self-reflection to realize just how dumb I was being. The downs that I experienced this past year were relatively minor and normal. It’s just the cycle of life. And in the end, I’d say that everything worked out pretty wonderfully. So what if I didn’t run a ton of races or have a bunch of shiny new PRs to show for it. Does anyone really care what my marathon or 5K PR is anyway? Sure, I love improvement, but that PR certainly doesn’t define me. It’s not going to get me a job interview or a raise in life. In fact, no one besides my family and running friends is even remotely interested in how long it takes me to run 26.2 miles.

On New Year’s Eve, when Evan and I were reflecting on this past year and everything that has happened, I realized just how often I slip into this way of thinking. Of classifying an experience as “bad” simply because it didn’t turn out as wonderful as I had planned. And letting my running accomplishments (or lack thereof) impact how I feel about myself. Even if I’m able to take a step back and eventually realize how crazy I’m being, I hate that this is my gut reaction. And frankly, it needs to stop.

I don’t normally make resolutions for the new year. I much prefer setting goals – they are more concrete and often include relatively defined steps I can take to achieve them. But this year, I think I could benefit from one simple resolution: to gain a little perspective. And to stop reacting so negatively to little setbacks.

Which brings me back to last night. And my ridiculous fit when we couldn’t get the house to warm up. The fit that was only making a bad situation worse.

I realized I was doing exactly the thing I had resolved not to do, only a day after I had resolved to stop doing it. (Work in progress, I suppose). So I snapped out of it, put some pots of water on the stove and stood right there in the kitchen with Evan – bundled in our winter coats and ski socks, drinking tea in the warmth of the steam from the boiling water. We still had electricity, warm clothing, a roof over our heads, and each other. In other words, things could’ve been a whole lot worse.

steamheat

As we waited for the repairmen to come fix the heat, we warmed our hands in front of the steam and talked about our trip, our plans for the year, and what we could do to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. And for the first time ever, I felt a wave of gratitude for our electric stove.

evan_bundled

We ate soup huddled under a blanket and dressed in layers. I set Koli up under a bunch of blankets and tried to convince the cats to stay near us (stubborn little buggers wouldn’t have it, though). And then at 8:00, after the heat was fixed and we started the long wait for the house to sloooooooooowly warm itself back up, we crawled into bed to watch the season finale of Homeland on the computer. Was it the best way to spend an evening? Not exactly. But, I have to admit that in the end, it was kind of fun.

Koli_bundled…though I’m not quite sure Koli agreed…

I have high hopes for 2013. Things I want to accomplish, ways in which I want to grow. As excited as I am for the new year, however, I realize that it’s not going to be perfect. Life never is. I may not be able to control everything that’s going to happen this year, but I can control how I react to it.

Here’s to a fresh perspective in 2013.

14 Responses to Fresh Perspective

  1. Perspective indeed! Great wrap-up of your year, and I can totally relate to the tendency to let expectations get in the way of positive-thinking.

    Years ago I was taught a meditation technique I tend to use when faced with certain situations/feelings. I try to pause before reacting and ask myself, “what is this feeling I’m having about – safety, control, or approval?” (sometimes, it’s a combo)

    In pausing, I internally respond to the question and doing so results in two things: 1) it allows me to acknowledge that I’m feeling anger/fear/pain/etc. and lacking safety/control/approval, and having those feelings is okay, and 2) after identifying the “root(s)”, I can say “yes” to not having them. For example, by saying “yes” to not having control/approval/safety, releases me from needing it in that moment.

    I have no idea if that makes sense at all, but it’s a practice that has worked for me, even if I have to go through it repeatedly before calming down. :)

    Happy 2013!

  2. Great post! I’m glad that you finally got the heat fixed and I can say that Koli looks so cute bundled up (although I’m sure he was cold!)

    Here’s to a great 2013!
    Jamie @ couchtoironwoman´s last post ..FRS Healthy Performance Review

  3. Wow, I could have written this post! Failed PR’s, unemployed, etc. New Year’s Eve I told my husband “I can’t wait until 2013, 2012 was the worst!”, and he replied “The worst? Really? What happened?” I said “I haven’t had a REAL job since March and I never got my sub 2:00 AGAIN” (I actually have a job, it’s just a temp to perm job that is taking a really long time to go perm). He pointed out all the things I do have and that nothing bad actually happened to us in 2012. And then I felt silly. Must work on eliminating negative talk.

  4. I loved this entry! For an optimistic person, I thought 2012 was the pits. But, looking back at the whole year…it could have been worse! Everyone I love is happy and healthy!

  5. Great post! I too have the tendency to think about things in black or white. Not such a great way to live I guess.:/ Wishing you a wonderful new year!

  6. In all my years of reading blogs, and rarely commenting, I’ve never read one that so accurately describes a situation that I often find myself in. You put it far more eloquently than I would have though. I had a good year, a good racing year? not so much. I beat myself up over and over about misses PRs, for what purpose? It doesn’t make me better it actually wears me out. I do the same thing with events if it is not how I envisioned it, it wasn’t good. It’s a nasty habit. My poor boyfriend when we travel and something throws a wrench in the plans (uhh that’s often, airlines anyone)? But he’s the best at focusing me on what actually matters. I look forward to attempting this resolution with you. I’ve got my eyes set on a marathon and 50k in the fall, if there are no PRs I hope I have a great training cycle (injury free!) And lots of other unrelated to running amazingness in 2013! Good luck with your heat, I grew up in a farm house from 1860s, warm is not a word I would use to describe it.

  7. Ahhhh so cute Koli! SO fortunate that your pipes remained intact.
    Lauren @ Powered by Oatmeal´s last post ..The OFFICIAL resolutions list!

  8. Oh that is horrible! It reminds me of the opposite that happened here in September, when our AC broke and it was 90 degrees outside! Our house quickly went from its normal 73 degrees to a way too hot 88 degrees. Leah was only 6 weeks old, she was hot and screaming (and in only a diaper) and I felt myself irrationally angry at Brett for being away in his nicely air conditioned office. haha. Luckily we got it fixed in a few hours, but it sure was miserable!! I think having the house be freezing would be even worse!! Glad it was fixed though :)
    Christina´s last post ..4 months

  9. Being cold is grim – we recently rented an apartment in Tokyo for a few weeks and the heating didn’t work at first. It was seriously bitter and I remember the fear of being so cold all night, especially with our little boy. Reading this totally brought it back!! Glad the heating worked – and glad you worked your way through the feelings as well.

    I’ve found that the CT shootings dramatically changed my perspective on things. Instead of moaning about little things, I’d just remember the families involved and shut up. I don’t mean to sound all worthy and holy, I’m not, I still moan a lot…but a little perspective definitely helps.
    Cathryn´s last post ..Race Report: Resolution Run 5k

  10. Very well said and I can totally relate! You have handled your “without heating” emergency very well. I am not very proud to share that even though we had a blast in Phoenix, I had a mini melt down doing down a very small mountain. The story was like this…After trail running in the morning in Sedona, we drove 2 hours back in Phoenix. Weather forecast predicted 50% chance for rain. So by 2:45pm, my bf and I decided that we would climb Squaw Peak (which is only 1000 ft in elevation in 1.2 miles with lots of good natural steps).

    I have to insert here that I don’t like going downhill. Most of my wipe out happens when I go downhill. It’s never the uphill portion.

    Back to hiking…so we climbed up, reached the summit and took goofy pics. Then, we saw raindrops… The nice stone steps became very slippery. After going down 1/3 of mountain, I started having a melt-down and said to my bf, “I can’t believe you took me all the way up here and it’s now raining and I am going to slide off the mountain!!! I hate you.”

    Looking back, there were 50 other people (including toddlers) going downhill with us. It couldn’t really have been that bad.

    Your words reasonated with me. I just classify things as crisis/bad when things become out of my immediate control (like the weather). By being able to focus on my reaction to the unknown and unplanned, I feel the ability to re-gain control.

    Happy New Year!

  11. I find myself thinking the exact same way! I have been trying to control my reactions, not situations.

    It’s challenging, to say the least.:)

    Good for you, Lauren!
    Brittany´s last post ..2012 in review

  12. Great post, Lauren! I too have had a rough year in 2012, but there have also been some wonderful aspects to it – you have reminded me to change my perspective of the year and remember the many good things that came out of it.

    PS – I can’t even IMAGINE what you are going through with the freezing weather at the moment – where I live (Sydney, Australia) we are going through a heatwave – today will be 43degrees Celcius (109F)!!! Koli looks so cute bundled up there. My dogs are currently looking at me as if I have betrayed them since I just gave them a bath (which they hate).

    Sending you warm thoughts and I hope your heating holds out for you! :)

  13. I can relate to this way of thinking,100%. I try so, so hard to try to find the positive in the situation for everyone else. But when it comes to my life everything is always so dramatic in a good/bad or failure/success kind of way. I need to work on that!
    Steph @ Steph Runs On´s last post ..2012, The Year I Learned To Love Running

  14. I feel like I could have written this post…but you said it so much better! I tend to be negative–and one negative ruins everything. I am working on being more positive and optimistic–and I like the idea of making 2013 about changing my perspective.

    We came back from vacation with no hot water—but that is a heck of a lot better than no heat!
    Renee´s last post ..new shoes and a new plan

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