Look ‘Em In the Eye

The Better Me Project—Day 6

In the vein of “caring too much about what others think”, I decided that I needed to actively do something to move toward the goal of Not Giving a Crap. One of my biggest flaws is being afraid to talk to people unless I have to (and even then, I’m a huge mess). This also stems way back to my hearing loss, so many times, I completely avoid others, rather than chancing to engage with them.

For example, the store—I seem to run into everyone and their brother when I go to the store. I usually tuck my chin to my chest and plow ahead. If I see someone I know, I usually take great pains to avoid them. I’ve reasoned with myself that I do this because I am in a hurry and I don’t want my ice cream to melt. Logical, right? Deep down, I know the real reason is “what if they don’t want to talk to me?” or “what if I don’t hear what they’re saying?” or “what if they’re judging me for the ratty sweat pants and gym hair that I’m rocking right now?”. Or there are some people I specifically avoid because I’m not sure where out relationship stands—an old friend I haven’t talked to in ten years or someone I had a falling out with and I can’t even remember the reason why. That could get super awkward. Plus, I’m lousy at small talk with people—I always feel like I have to carry the conversation (and I’m sure the other person is thinking the same exact thing).

And while I shouldn’t care what they’re thinking of me, the image I’m actually projecting by avoiding them is that of a stuck up snob who thinks I’m better than everyone else. Ironic, huh, considering the real reason I’m not talking to people is the exact opposite of that reason? The reason I’m ducking my head down is because I feel inferior.

I decided as part of my Better Me Project, I was going to stop avoiding people. I was going to look them in the eyes and say hi. Ask them how they’ve been. Ask what they’ve been up to and how their kids are. Chances are, they would want to move on as quickly as I did (after all their ice cream was melting, too) and it’d be a quick, but satisfying conversation. As long as I was friendly and thoughtful enough, there was no reason to second guess myself over a thirty second conversation. And if they cast their eyes downward and refused to meet my gaze? Well, that was on them, not me. I made an effort—they were the ones with an issue then.

I tried this out one Saturday at the grocery store. I was there at 9 am, prime time to see everyone I knew. And I did. Instead of running the other way or bypassing aisles altogether, I smiled and said hi to people. They smiled and said hi back. Some stopped to talk briefly, others dashed off quickly, claiming to be in a rush  (it was Saturday after all). Either way, it actually made the trip to the store more pleasant instead of a dreaded chore that it usually is. I found myself even smiling at strangers and chatting it up at the register with the nice old lady on line in front of me. Little annoyances—like that same old lady questioning every single coupon—didn’t bother me like they usually would. I left the store much less frazzled and without any frustration. I think the attitude that I was going to go about this chore without making it something to check off a list and more about an experience of interacting with people, made it less painful.

I know that seems ridiculous—how could my attitude make something that is usually completely unpleasant, a bearable experience? I really don’t know. Believe me, I am the type of person who is constantly muttering under my breath about how I hate people and want to move to an island. But yet, once I tried to change my approach to “people”, I realized that this really isn’t true at all. Maybe because I was facing the situation with the previous day’s precept fresh in my mind…smile, even if you don’t want to. It really seems to work—instead of projecting the image of “cranky person that you shouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole”, I was projecting the image of a confidant, pleasant person who is totally approachable. Which helps me in my personal and professional life as well.

So if you see me in the store, say hi. I’ll say hi back. And maybe even stop to see what’s up in your life…unless of course, my ice cream really is melting.

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The Better Me (A Self-Improvement) Project

I’ve been reading a lot lately. I know that’s not a crazy concept considering reading is pretty much my number one favorite hobby—other than, you know, fishing the kids’ socks out from underneath the couch cushions. I usually have a book in the car, a book in my purse, a book on my nightstand, and one floating around the house…at all times. The crazy part is, I’ve been reading non-fiction.

Reading has always been my escape from the world so when people started suggesting that I read more non-fiction, I immediately poo-poohed that idea. How boring! I thought. Who wants to read about real people? I want to read of about imaginary characters.

Still, I found myself holding my library’s copy of “You Are a Badass”, a non-fiction book about self-improvement by Jen Sincero—basically about how to become more successful in all areas your life. It was a little out there at times and I definitely found myself disagreeing with some of the author’s assertions, yet, I found myself nodding in agreement more times than not. I found myself saying Why yes! I can make these changes in my life and maybe I can create my own success story. 

Immediately inspired by the author’s positive attitude, I started applying some of the ideas I had gathered from the book. For the next few weeks, I continued and I really started to notice a difference in me. Was it instant success? Of course not. I’m a work in progress, but it motivated me to try harder, achieve more. It motivated me to learn more.

Hungry for more tips, I took out “The Happiness Project”, by Gretchen Rubin. Once again much of what she talked about had me bobbing my head and muttering out loud. It was real and inspiring—who doesn’t want to be happier? I mean, I’m essentially a content person, comfortable in my life in a way most relatively successful people in their forties are. But could I have more? Could I be more? I immediately wanted to do my own “Happiness Project”. But my project wouldn’t be about being “Happy”.

Happy is such a weird word. While I think of myself as a generally “happy” person, I get overwhelmed and angry on a daily basis. I’m not sure someone else would describe me as “happy”. And what is happy anyway? I’m happy right now, eating a bowl of soup and sitting in the den with my hubby on a Friday night while he watches golf. Does this always make me happy? Absolutely not. If he had promised me a steak dinner and a night out, this would make me the absolute opposite of happy. Happiness is about perspective and unfortunately how we define happiness can be fleeting. Tomorrow tragedy could strike, and as hard as I try, happiness may evade me for a long time. I didn’t want my project to be for naught, for the possibility of it abruptly ending, so I decided instead of “happiness” being my goal, I would strive to be a “better” person. My project would be 30 Days to a Better Me.

We all want to leave this Earth better than it was when we arrived (well, most of us do), but what makes it better? Is it the mark we leave on the people around us? Is it our successes? Or is it the simple fact that our time on Earth was an enjoyable one? Is there a formula that we can actually follow?

In the month of March, I challenged myself to be alcohol free. Hubby refused to participate with St. Patrick’s Day and uh, other days ending with Y (insert eyeroll here). No matter—I’m a very goal oriented/ competitive person…even when I’m competing against myself. I was going to get through 31 days without a drink. Not that I’m an alcoholic or anything, but I like my wine and an occasional Moscow Mule after a long day at work. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, especially when I’ve been out with friends (peer pressure doesn’t end when you graduate high school, by the way), but what I discovered about myself very early in in this month actually became the incentive to my “Better Me” project. Forming and breaking habits are what motivates most people and what shapes their personality and how they go about their daily lives. So many times people try to change their lives (dieting, quitting smoking, etc.) in one fell swoop rather than breaking their challenge up in manageable pieces.

I started off the project by making a list of what I wanted to accomplish—it was a shmorgash board of goals ranging from being more pleasant to the people in my everyday life, to reaching more readers. Then, I listed some of my biggest hurdles standing in my way—what did I think would help me accomplish these goals. There were A LOT of things on that list, but many were linked together—many were dependent on each other. One of the most difficult parts of this project has been how to actually ORGANIZE it so it makes sense. But then again, letting go of my rigidity is part of the project.

Inspired by the book “Wonder”, I created a “daily precept” that would help me either form or break a habit every day for 30 days—I wrote these out on notecards, which excited me wayyyy more than it should—I’m such a stationary nerd. My goal at the end of the 30 days was to at least be heading in the right direction to make a change for the better. Some days I succeed. Other days I fail. No matter what, I have been journaling my observations and my feelings which I want to share with you. This is not to say this journey is necessarily something that you want to do, but if you do choose to create your own “Better Me” project, some of my ideas and precepts may be a helpful jumping off point. Everyone’s project will look different—yours might be more specific tasks rather than an eclectic combination of desirable concepts, vague goals, and specific tasks like mine has been.

I’m still not done with my project, even though the 30 days is nearing to a close. Still, I wanted to share this project in as close to real time as I could. Maybe it’ll end up being “37 Days to a Better Me” (probably not because that’s an odd number and there’s no way I’m going to work with such a random number…). But however it turns out, I’d like share my findings with you. I’ll post once a day in the month of April—at the end of the 30 days, I’ll reevaluate and let you know how I did. Wish me luck!

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