Scaffolding of Moderation
This morning I was talking to some clients about the tendency toward all-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking or perfectionism. This is a tendency that makes it really hard to stick to routines or plans or tasks when things aren't going exactly right….and that makes it even harder than it already is for many of us to carve out, and stick to, routines and structures. It makes it too obvious to give up on something we're doing because the middle ground isn't clear. It doesn't seem like there's "something" you can do to make progress or keep on track, because "something" isn't the "one perfect thing," and the results may not be 100%.
And here's something that came up in my mind while I was thinking and talking about this: I'm lucky that I had the experience of living Netherlands for most of my 20's, because it gave me a model of moderation. Dutch culture tends to be a culture that involves a lot of moderation, routine, and a sense of contentedness. This offered a completely opposing experience to the ambition and "you can do anything if you try" kind of fabric I grew up with in the US. I love the passion we've got here, that's not what this is about. I just think that Dutch culture offered me a sort of scaffolding for accepting things that are good in life, and things that running well, and in general the little things, rather than always needing to achieve and attain the ultimate in everything. Even thinking about it is calming.
I don't think this sense isn't available state-side, the Netherlands simply immersed me in it, and now I have a way of remembering in a lot of life what the middle ground might be; what satisfaction might be without a gold star. I guess I'd recommend to everyone who struggles with the all-or-nothing bug to look for this around them so you can hang reminders on your mental wall that whatever you're working on is still worthwhile even when it isn't "perfect." Here are some of the things I recall when I want to remember this:
-A well-balanced but very simple dinner (rather than an amazingly tasty, exotic, or huge one).
-That holds for food in general. A cookie is nice. A chocolate is nice. It doesn't have to be the whole bag, it can be satisfying as a quiet ritual to have one cookie with coffee, and depriving oneself entirely isn't necessary either.
-Doing some nice things in a day makes for a good day.
-Some socializing, some relaxing, is human, pleasant, healthy. Intense work from dawn 'til dusk doesn't make you a better person. The Dutch structure in many short breaks, and varied activities.
-A walk is exercise. Sometimes and for some of us an intense workout is great, but don't forget that a pleasant walk at lunch or after dinner or what have you is also good for you.
-Having clothes and a roof over your head is a wonderful thing. It doesn't need to be extravagant to be enough.
-Getting some work done is good productivity. Work some each day. Go home and eat a decent meal afterwards. Work ends after a work day's number of hours- not after you're exhausted and have proved you can stay longer than everyone else. In other words, work to live, not the other way around, even if work is awesome.
It's pretty hard to capture the sense that comes with thinking about this for me, but it's clear to me how instrumental it has been to find some context and reference to understand how to make the muddled gray, the imperfection be my satisfaction. It seems to come down to remembering what's important in general, and not just in the moment of whatever you're doing now. Of course, remembering is the hard part for many of us. What helps you to remember?