COVID-19. Isolation. Racism. Political divisiveness. New ways of working, socializing, and living. Loneliness. Fear. Hostility. Frustration. That’s 2020.
I’ve heard many, including myself, say “I cannot wait to see the end of 2020”. It’s our coping mechanism and hope for the future. The reality is that the simple march of time and moving from 2020 to 2021 is not going to flip the switch and make everything better.
In most circumstances I have believed that I am resilient and capable of juggling pressures, demands, and stresses. But… Over the last 7 months or so, I have often found myself with a sense of hopelessness, a feeling of paralysis, and losing sight of what is most important. I realized that I was not taking care of myself or doing the things that I needed to do to give myself the energy and mental capacity to fight the right fight – creating a better future for my son and all those like him. A future that he deserves.
Then, a few weeks ago I sat through a session with Arianna Huffington (and Doug Peterson) and listened to her describe Thrive Global and the power of Microsteps. My first thought was “Huh. It really can’t be that simple”. After the session, I continued to reflect on the little changes that I could make, yet skeptical that I would see a major difference.
I started tracking the screen time spent on my phone with a goal to reduce it by 20% in 30 days. After 2 weeks, I have already exceeded my target (27% down week over week). How, you might ask? I stopped reading my phone in bed (morning and night); each day I increased the number of minutes between waking up and looking at my phone.
As a family, we added a “no phone zone” where we have an increasing period of time where no one is looking at a phone and instead doing something active (usually hide and seek with our son) – our goal is 2 hours per day. I turned off notifications for nearly all apps and rather than my phone dictating when I should look at it, I decide when to do it.
Reducing screen time has been great, but it didn’t really give me that change I needed. I started tracking my daily accomplishments and asking myself three questions. What did I accomplish today that was important? What did I do today that made me truly laugh? What did I do today that was just for me? The first question was the easiest to answer. I could check things off my list whether it was delivering something at work or fixing a broken fence picket. For the second question, I found myself struggling at times to remember a moment that truly made me laugh. On a few days I couldn’t find the answer to the third question. I’ve had a lot of reflection since the first week of these questions.
I realized I was internalizing so many things that were causing me to lose sight of the things that are my passion. I let hostility and pressure push joy to the side lines of my life. I am a clown by nature and humor is a big part of who I am, but I let the world around me put the deep belly laughter on a shelf. And, I wasn’t giving myself the space and opportunity to breathe. My energy was waning. It was time for change and only I could do it.
I’ve adopted some new microsteps. I’m changing my diet – I’m growing the number of hours between my last meal/snack and bed time – currently at 2 hours. My weekly banana bread baking with my son is including less and less sugar – one cup has turned into 1/3 cup so far with the goal to eliminate it completely.
My family time is quality time. As I mentioned, we have the “no phone zone”. We’re at 45 minutes per day. My daily accomplishments must include an escalating number of minutes of physical activity. I am taking ‘me’ time – no less than 15 minutes per day of quiet time just for me (usually before bed). As a family, we are asking ourselves “what did we do that was fun today?” to put things into perspective.
This is a journey with no real finish line. We are all still processing a lot on a daily basis and while there will be good days and bad days, I feel my energy returning. I find myself focusing on the actions that are important and better able shoulder those things that could drag us down. The actions I am taking are fueling my passion to fight the right fight – eliminating racism and improving our future, a fight that my fellow white people must join. As with almost everything else, change is process. We must remember that even microsteps (an action) in our pursuit to be anti-racist can make a difference.
My family and some friends with kids are approaching social interaction as a “pod”. After a recent playdate with one family in the pod, my son said “I am white because I am a good boy.” The kids had played tag the previous day. When we asked him why he felt that way, he said “Good guys chase bad guys and good guys are white and bad guys are black”. We explained to him that good guys and bad guys WEAR all colors – black, white, red, blue, green, orange, or even all the colors – and showed him cartoons and books that represented that view. While I think that at this age (3-6), the black and white view is innocent, it represents a social view that is not and it demonstrates that society influences how our children see the world. The action (the microstep if you will) that we took was having an honest conversation with our friends. This conversation was not an attack or a reprimand, but a perspective. A perspective that as white parents raising white children they may not think about or consider. Now they do. These small actions of influence can have a big impact.
These microsteps are helping me to see progress and better assuring a healthy balance for myself. This is more important than ever because at the end of this life, I want my son to say “My dad earned the privilege that he inherited”.