Note to Self: Don’t Force Solutions, Just Do the Next Right Thing

So I’m learning a thing lately. (No, I’m not talking about a thing in silks class, though I can show you some videos if you like.) Anyway, I’m learning something and, by golly, I feel great!

What I mean is that I’m learning a new way of being. Have you ever heard the phrases “don’t force solutions” and/or “do the next right thing?” I think they’re maybe from 12-step programs, or maybe those programs have just adopted these existing phrases. Whatever the origin, focusing on those two things – not forcing solutions and focusing instead on doing the next right thing – are kind of changing my life.

If you’ve been reading MAW for a awhile you might remember that I’ve been struggling a bit recently – and by recently, I mean the last five years or so. I’ve had a broken bone, surgery, lost my mother and my mother-in-law and a couple of pets, the kids have had some heartbreaking challenges, etc. It’s just life, but my first inclination has always been to FIX THINGS IMMEDIATELY. And then I fly around in a tizzy, letting everyone know that I’m in crisis.

I’m no longer sure this is the best way to navigate the world if I want to know some peace.

For Example…

Let me explain:

About five years ago, I trained with a bunch of women of all ages to get ready for the Warrior Dash obstacle course race. Our instructor who ran the Dirty Girl Bootcamp would set up crazy stuff for us to jump over and crawl through and weave around relentlessly. Sometimes after class, I was too tired to walk to my car.

To be clear, I am not a glutton for punishment. If I feel like I’m going too hard and might throw up, for example (as happens to my big brother in nearly every bike race he participates in – but then, that’s why he always “gets on the podium”), I stop immediately. I don’t like to feel like shit. But I do like to push myself a bit, and our instructor pushed me just the right amount (thanks, Jennifer!). None of us cared one way or the other how the rest performed. We were focused on improving ourselves and supporting the others, and it was a blast.

Warrior Dash day arrived. We were Moms in Black, and wore the team name on the backs of our shirts. And I wore a silver crown, because the day of the race happened to fall on my birthday.

I had lost about 45 pounds through training and I was pumped. So we line up, we start running, and we reach the first obstacle, a wide row of tires to jump our way across. I’m hopping my way through, pretending I’m a football player, when my foot comes down on the soft, inside edge of a tire; my foot buckles, something snaps (hopefully a twig), and I drop to the ground.

Well, a friend from class stopped with me and helped me to the side of the course (thanks Kristen!), where we sat for a bit before I decided to try putting some weight on my foot. It hurt, but I could walk, and eventually run, on it, so we caught up with the rest of our gang and finished the race – except I didn’t jump over the fire because I’m not stupid (ha).

Anyway, long story short, my ankle was broken. Happy birthday to me! It was still a pretty great birthday, broken bone notwithstanding. The Moms in Black helped me by finding the first aid tent, getting my foot wrapped, grabbing me a beer, and – later – baking me a birthday cake (thanks, Lisa!).

Was This the Next Right Thing? (I’m Pretty Sure Not)

Now finally I’ll get back to “doing the next right thing” vs “forcing solutions.” As soon as I was declared healed, I went back to boot camp. I’d been out of commission for six weeks. I needed to get back to it. I would not lose muscle or gain weight! I was going back in there to kick ass! Well, my first day back, I was doing box jumps, despite the fact that I hadn’t done any in six weeks and my ankle was still wobbly. I decided that was the day to move to the tallest box, took a massive jump, and landed it. Wahoo! And then I did it again, and my toes snagged the edge of the plywood box, and I came down with all of my weight onto my shin on the sharp edge.

I collapsed across the box and couldn’t move. I had to lie there until I was noticed and my classmates helped me sit down. I was crying and lightheaded. The pain was intense. To this day, I have a divot the size and depth of a pea in my upper shin. The resulting hematoma was so huge it was actually larger than my knee. (I had a picture, but it was grotesque so I deleted it.) And there I was, out of commission for another two months. I was gaining weight like crazy and doing nothing but sitting on the couch going nuts.

Avoid Forcing Solutions

I look back on that and think: what if I took a step back after my ankle was healed and asked myself, What is the next right thing here? What if I took time to breathe and to look at the reality I was given and live in that reality (weak ankle) rather than “forcing solutions” (convincing myself to perform at a high level in order to avoid the potential for disaster, by which I mean losing endurance and – horrors! – gaining weight). What if I even said a little prayer, asking God (whoever he or she is) to help me know the next right thing to do?

Had I done that, I may have escaped the box jump injury and the subsequent 50 pounds of misery that I packed on.

So that’s my new way of tackling problems: I don’t tackle them. I pause. I breathe. I wait. I say a little prayer each day to ask God to help me know what the next right step is, and then I try to do it. And if I feel an urgent need to do something, to fix things, then I can be pretty sure that I’m forcing solutions in a way that may not be wise, and I breathe and wait some more.

I’ll tell you, the peace I feel at stepping back, letting go of trying to control everything, and letting life unfold in front of me, is pretty immense. I feel happier and calmer than I have in years – in spite of the fact that many areas of my life are still in turmoil (and likely always will be, cause that’s life).

Take Action When It’s Right

This doesn’t mean I don’t take any action. I absolutely am living my life, making decisions, and moving forward. It’s just that I wait for a bit if I’m suddenly filled with the need to act. I attempt to create space between an event and my response to it.

I like to avoid giving advice in this column; I try to focus on my experiences and to not try to convince you to learn anything from me. Now, with my new way of approaching things – well, I think I the next right thing to do is to continue not giving advice and to go to bed and let you live your own life. But if you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear about them. Please comment!

Have fun til next time,

Jen

XO

PS: I hate leaving without a PS, but I had nothing more to say. So, this is my PS.

PPS: Could it be I’m becoming an adult at last?