Making room for the good things

October 10, 2013

Over the past couple of years, I've found myself becoming a more anxious person, whereas growing up and even into my early 30's, I had a fairly mellow personality. It could be my age (I'm turning 40 next spring), it could be that it's been almost seven roller coaster years of running a business and it could be that we have children.

Of course, there's nothing I can do about these three points; I can't stop aging, I like having a business and I absolutely love being a husband and father.

What I've realized though is that it's really not these specific, larger-picture things that cause me stress and worry. Rather, it's all of the other random small things that build up my anxiety to a point where I can't cope with the more important worries, like stuff to do with my family, my health, our home or the business. These little things pick away at whatever small amount of existing energy or focus I have and thus don't leave enough over for the things that really matter.

So, today I made a list. A list of some things that make me feel bad and some things that make me feel good. My goal was to get it out of my head, look for patterns and see if I can lower my anxiety levels by removing some of the bad while embracing more of the good.

Things that make me feel bad

  • Reading email on my phone
  • Twitter and all other short-form social media
  • Reading tech news websites
  • Overly negative blog comments
  • People on the web who make fun of or are purposefully mean to other people
  • When business cash flow inevitably gets tight
  • When I have to chase unpaid invoices
  • When the office phone rings throughout the day and we don't answer it because there's work to be done. I feel bad about the not answering part. It's not that I don't like talking on the phone, but interruptions steal flow and when we're the ones also doing the work, that means the work doesn't get done
  • Keeping my email software open during the day, something that permits me to give into temptation and read what's arrived or look back through older messages
  • Not being able to have much of a time buffer between the office and home when I can't ride my bike to work. I like this during the spring, summer and fall because it allows me to unwind between destinations
  • Listening to some podcasts because they can fill my head with too many ideas or concerns

Things that make me feel good

  • Eating meals with my whole family
  • Playing toys and Lego with the kids
  • Watching cartoons and comedy shows with the kids
  • Reading books to the kids at night
  • Random hugs from the kids
  • Watching our daughter dance at the studio
  • Taking the time to make a good cup or pot of coffee
  • Going for a bike ride or ski with the dog
  • Riding my alpine snowboard because it takes 100% concentration to stay in control
  • Hanging out in the forest with my family and picking berries or exploring trails
  • Designing really challenging software interfaces
  • Coming up with business and marketing strategies for ourselves, then implementing and tracking them
  • Making to-do lists and knocking stuff off them
  • Making project plans and schedules
  • Making Gantt charts. Seriously
  • Working hard and accomplishing something of significance during the day
  • Writing RFPs and submitting them, then winning
  • Watching movies with the kids or just with my wife
  • Listening to music in the vehicle or while on a walk
  • Doing work outside in the yard
  • Fixing stuff around the house
  • Camping in the summer with our kids
  • Baking and cooking
  • Playing basketball, football, soccer or baseball
  • Going to church and singing songs
  • Reading paper books

Compiling these lists has shown me something and that is: I clearly need to get rid of some of the bad, which thankfully in many cases, is pretty straightforward.

There are also some things in the "bad" list that can't be removed, but perhaps if I deal with some of the others, I'll have more energy for the remaining.