I tapped out the letters on my screen: “Leaving an hour late. Story of my life.”
The sideways emoji with its tongue hanging out felt like the perfect icon to round out the text message. I pressed it, then hit “send” and let my friend know I was on my way to Chicago for the retreat she was hosting.
My mind had been jumping from thing to thing, from event to event and responsibility to responsibility in a busy season. But the openness of the Indiana countryside, an audiobook story line coming through the speakers, and the rumble of the road cleared my head from the clutter.
I was making decent time, a good hour into my drive, when the phone rang and my friend’s name flashed on the screen. I thought back to our string of texts, her computer troubles and other challenges leading up to the event, and wondered what she might need that would require a call one-third of the way into my trip. I pulled into the next rest stop to call her back.
As I pressed my fingerprint to the button, I noticed her text from an hour ago, “You’re not coming today, right?!!” she wrote.
I don’t know how many times I had looked at the website to check out the speakers and workshops for the event. I know I had read the date on multiple occasions, but somehow I had lodged it in my brain that the event was the first weekend of the month. Here I was over an hour into the drive, staring at the date in the event description. Yep. Sure enough. The event was the NEXT weekend. I was a whole week early. I guess “leaving an hour late” wasn’t exactly the story of my life. But being out of sync, ahead or behind, never on time, was.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. It was funny. But this was another bit of evidence in a long string of it that I just can’t seem to get my head on straight, get my act together, or any other cliché about disorganized, disoriented people. I swallowed back my self-pity and called my friend.
The first thing out of my mouth was, “I’m such an airhead.”
Then, I called my husband and said, “I’m such an idiot…. I’m sorry you’re married to such an airhead.”
I laughed it off. It wasn’t that big of a mess-up, in the scheme of things. But my own insults and declarations of my ineptness continued to line up in my head and play one after the other.
You’ll never get it together. What is wrong with you? You have this thing called a day planner, you know. A little eager, huh? Every time you try something fun, you end up looking like a fool. You try to squeeze way too much onto your calendar. You should give up on doing things for yourself. You can’t think a straight thought. You can’t trust yourself.
If we listen closely,
the small hiccups in our lives
can clue us in
on the bigger story
we are telling ourselves.
These thoughts played in unison with other thoughts I’d been having recently as I prepared to lead some workshops.
Your thoughts are too complicated. Nobody gets you. You’re an idea person but you don’t know how to get things done. Your mind is a mess. You’re a freight train off track. You’re never going to get anywhere with your writing. Other people know how to get things done, but you’re going to be left in the dust. Your mind is a super ball bouncing, or a thousand of them.
I felt generally out of sync with the rest of the world and wondered if I could ever get my act together enough to make an impact with my gifts if I couldn’t even get to myself to the right place at the right time.
As it happened, in recent weeks I had been reading a new book by Hayley Morgan, Preach to Yourself: When Your Inner Critic Comes Calling, Talk Back with Truth. The previous year, she and I had chatted about my own experience with learning how to renew the mind and rewire the brain. I was thrilled that she was writing about a subject so connected with my personal journey and passion. But lately, in a time of stress and overwork, my mind had slipped back into old habits. Hayley’s freshly published book was the voice of a friend reminding me of a better way, helping me pay better attention to the dynamics in my own head.
If we listen closely, the small hiccups in our lives can clue us in on the bigger story we are telling ourselves. Subconsciously, I had been thinking if I insulted myself before anyone else did, I’d somehow have more dignity. I had learned as a child that this is how you talk to a person who doesn’t have it together. And subconsciously in my adult life, I’ve been taking on the roles of authoritarian and ashamed child all at once.
Maybe I thought my insults would be the kick in rear I needed to get with it. Maybe I thought if I insulted myself, I’d lower people’s expectations of me so they wouldn’t be surprised when I inevitably failed to “adult” well. Maybe I sensed that if I’d insult myself, some kind soul would chime in and tell me a better story about my worth.
But why couldn’t I be that kind soul for myself?
In Preach to Yourself, Hayley says, “Newton’s first law of motion tells us that once an object is in motion, it will keep moving unless it is acted upon by another force. If we allow our minds to keep chattering false beliefs to us, we’re likely to continue to believe them. It takes work and energy to stop the false beliefs in their tracks.” (157)
Like my friend’s phone call, the “oops” events in our lives can alert us to the chatter in our heads and let us know we’re heading in the wrong direction. After that, it’s up to us pull over and align our thoughts with God’s thoughts to turn our thinking around.
There at the rest stop, I began an attunement exercise I’d learned a few years earlier. I listened to God say,
- I see you….
- I hear you….
- I understand why this is hard for you….
- I’m happy to be with you….
- I can help you with this….
As a nice surprise, when I left the rest stop and got back on the road, I noticed a familiar town on the next exit sign. I took the exit and pulled over in the small town grocery parking lot to text a writer friend who lived nearby. She put the teapot on the burner and told me to come on over, making my accidental trip toward Chicago feel a little more purposeful.
After that weekend, I sorted through my essential oil collection and pulled out my Brain Power blend, I bought a brain food oxaloacetate supplement, and I’ve been considering organizational hacks for better navigating a life that feels like it’s going in multiple directions from the sheer fact that I’m responsible for guiding and paying close attention to three little people with their own interests and schedules. But more than nurturing my brain to keep my schedule straight, I needed to change the entire story I was telling myself.
Author of The Mindful Brain, Daniel Siegel, wrote, “How we focus attention helps directly shape the mind.”
In both family life and writing, a multiplicity of mismatched, unaligned thoughts had been leading me along in a nonsensical zigzag, no continuity. I felt like my life was a dot-to-dot picture done out of order. But what if I could train my mind to follow one singular truth?
I felt like my life was a dot-to-dot picture done out of order.
But what if I could train my mind to follow one singular truth?
Hayley says, “When we hear ourselves playing a bad news loop, we stop it right away. Then we put something better on. We replace it with truth. And once we do that, we can begin to wear new paths in our brains. We stay on that new and narrow path. We refuse to veer back onto the well-worn path of false belief.”
So, what’s the story of my life? That I am unfixably off-kilter? That I never measure up? That I’m a mess?
The story of my life is that I am dearly loved and fully enjoyed by One who’s happy to be with me whether I’m late, on time, or a whole week early. Steering myself to that singular storyline each day is making me feel less scatterbrained.
What about you? What’s the story of your life? What recent mess-ups have clued you in to the negative self-talk in your head? I’d love to be the voice of a friend reminding you of a better way.
Meet me in the comments below to share what you’re hearing and what you’re saying back.