I’m somewhat of a competitive person in nature, which is, most of the time, a real liability. But last weekend this quality of mine came in handy.
I checked my work e-mail bright and early Saturday morning, and one had the potential of ruining my weekend, because it reminded me of the letter of “constructive criticism” my friends Angela and Karen handed me in the fourth grade. (You’d think I’d be over it by now.)
I obsessed about this e-mail for an hour, and then I decided to do the unthinkable: shut down the computer.
Eric and I loaded the double stroller with towels, sunscreen, Little Mermaid surf boards, and Ariel water wings, and headed to the pool, where we met a few of our friends.
“Hey, John,” I said to the ex-marine we hang out with, “you’re a good swimmer, right? Let’s race!”
He shook his head no.
“But,” he said, “I challenge you to swim underwater to the other side of the pool without taking a breath.”
I looked at the one side, and then the other side, and thought it was at least 25 yards, maybe 25 meters. And there were tons of kids that I’d have to swim around–so the path would be longer than 25 years (or meters).
“Okay, I’ll do it!” I said. Because I didn’t want the ex-marine thinking I was a wuss.
Now I didn’t have goggles and I couldn’t see all that well under water. I thought I was going to pass out halfway through, but the thought of failing at this mission killed me, so I figured somebody would eventually see me at the bottom of the pool if I did, really, run out of air or had brain damage.
Finally I saw the wall! My hands felt the way up to the surface, and voila! There I was at the other side! Situated, mind you, in between two guys drinking some beers in a conversation that I was embarrassed to have interrupted.
At that moment I thought about how my work sometimes takes over my life, and how the opinions of people–especially those readers who like to trash and run (anonymously)–still have way too much power in my head.
So I challenged myself, yet again!
I bet you can’t go a whole day without checking your e-mail, I baited myself.
I bet I can! The competitive voice responded.
I envisioned this challenge just like swimming under water without taking a breath. And you know what? I didn’t make it.
BUT I did much better this time (SIX hours!) than I have in a very long time, and I think that is because I approached it just like the swimming competition: as a contest with myself.
I have, since then, been giving myself mini-challenges throughout the day.
For example, I’ve been feeling badly about all the TV my kids watch, so I made a rule that between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, there are no electronics in our household. And that also applies to me! This is my technology time-out, as well.
Every time I’m tempted to sneak a peek at my e-mail, or break the rule, I see the face of my ex-marine friend … with a wide smile as I surface from the water before making it to the end of the pool (he would have won the bet). And that keeps me going another fifteen minutes of no e-mail.
So I’m here to challenge you to do that thing in your life that you want to do, but that’s hard. Treat it like a contest with a good friend (your alter ego). And even if it takes a few trial sessions, I bet you’ll get closer to the goal than you think.
To read more Beyond Blue, go to www.beliefnet.com/beyondblue, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.