Honor Your Limits. Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing. Celebrate Small Wins.

Long ago, settlers were the adventurous ones, trading in their sweat and safety for the promise of a better life. These days, “settling in” rarely involves danger. But it does still demand effort. 

And yet. Learning new names, and new ways of doing things is work. Adapting to change takes effort and energy. More than continuing established routines.

Transitions are hard. 

Honor Your Limits

Your Energy Has Limits

“[Our presumption] that we can always access more energy — through exercise, diet, lifestyle, supplements, hormones, energy drinks — is a dangerous illusion that allows us to wildly overestimate how much we are actually capable of taking on with each new relationship, task, or responsibility.” — Wayne Muller

Couple this illusion with the western notion that our value as human beings is proportional to our capacity for useful activity, and we have a perfect storm.

No wonder we over-extend ourselves and burn out!

In this season of change, give yourself grace. Recognize that transitioning well will demand energy. 

Choose how you use your remaining energy with thoughtful intention.

Take breaks — short ones. 

“Breaks are not a sign of sloth but a sign of strength”. — Daniel Pink 

Pink recommends the nappuccino: “coffee, followed by a nap of ten to twenty minutes, is the ideal technique”. The caffeine kicks in just as you wake from a short power nap. You can hit the ground running.

Your Time Has Limits

Transplanting your pre-transition schedule is not viable. You’ll need time for transitioning. 

You can’t do all the things you used to do because that would mean doing all those things PLUS all the work related to transitioning well.

Transitioning well is hard work. And it takes time.

Any new activity takes longer than a well-established routine.

It takes time to new doctors and dentists and orthodontists. It takes time to register for new soccer leagues and find a piano teacher. 

It takes time to pack a diaper bag and load baby into the car seat.

It takes time to listen as your kid processes big emotions related to the changes your family is going through. 

You might get lost on your way home from the grocery store. You might invest time with a counselor or therapist as you walk through an uninvited life change. 

This is a process, transitioning. You can’t speed it up by powering through. 

Some activities take longer because of your inexperience. Some are added to your schedule as part of the transition process. Schedule accordingly or you’ll run a sleep deficit. And we’ve already established that your energy is limited. You need your sleep.

It takes time to settle in. Eventually your own life will stop feeling unfamiliar. It will take awhile — sometimes months, maybe a year or more. Not days or weeks.

Give yourself grace. And rest. And time.

Your Willpower Has Limits

“maybe those decisions were bad because he made them in the afternoon” — Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink advises important “decisions and negotiations, should be conducted earlier in the day”. Willpower wanes the more decisions we make. Except for the night-owls among us , our willpower is strongest and our thinking clearest in the morning. That is the time to make strategic decisions. 

Most of us make better decisions in the morning. Photo by Pawel Czerwiński on Unsplash.

Decision fatigue is part of the deal. We can’t avoid it, but we can mitigate its damage by choosing when to make the important decisions, taking breaks, and saving the trivial choices for later.

“Researchers at Cornell University estimate we make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone. And as your level of responsibility increases, so does the multitude of choices you have to make. It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.” — Frank Graff for UNCTV

Transitions mess with routines, gifting us with even more choices than usual. From Which school do I put my kid in? to Where do I unpack the coffee mugs? So. Many. Choices.

Deal with the schools in the morning (or whenever you’re at your prime). Save the coffee mugs for later.

Relational Limits

Just as we get into trouble when we overestimate our available energy, we become grumpy when we overestimate our capacity for people time. So much for good first impressions.

Interactions at work, in stores, all of them will be with new people — not old friends. That demands a little more of you. Protect some pockets of time to refresh. A short walk. Alone. Outside. Time to journal.

If you need alone time to recharge, don’t cram your social calendar because you’re desperate to meet people. 

Do meet people. Do invite people for coffee. Meet the new neighbors. Invite a family over whose kids are new your kids’ ages. Just don’t forego rest.

Stay on Track

Set an Intention for this Season

What do you want out of this new adventure? What are your hopes? What is your priority for now — in the short term? What would it look like to come through this transition well?

If this transition has been thrust upon you, what or who most needs your attention and care? Who else might help provide that care?

Write down these most important things. With this clarity, you can intentionally decide which and how many activities to engage in.

Perhaps you’ve already made the move and are swamped with activities and demands. Take a breath, a walk, or a morning away. Stop the hamster wheel of your mind by writing down whatever urgent thoughts are swirling there. Once that’s done, think big picture.

Emily Freeman advises listing your current commitments and asking, “What is life-giving? What is life-draining?”

Quit something that isn’t aligned with your main intention for this season. Steer clear of things that are simply life-draining (where possible).

Is your priority language learning? If so, your energy and unscheduled moments will be dedicated to that — language study and conversation.

Is meeting people your top priority? Keep evenings open so you can host new friends. Focus on making one common room functional so you have a place to sit and share a coffee. Plan weekend excursions with others. If you don’t know anyone, hang out at the playground, library, coffee shop, church events. Invite your kids’ new friends to join you at the playground.

Be in places where you can meet people.

What activities do you kids really love? Finding that gymnastics class might be the first priority. Look for places for kids to grow skills and relationships without overburdening their schedules.

Children like to know what’s coming. So do the rest of us. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

Visualize — Set a Plan for the Day

“Children live their lives pictorially, especially when they’re really young (under seven). They need visuals.” — Kim John Payne

Last night, my three-year-old got out of bed, walked down two floors to ask me, “Mommy? Tomorrow, can I watch a show?”

This shows me two things. (1) He’s preoccupied with Paw Patrol, (2) He wants to know what’s coming. 

I explained, “You’ll go to preschool in the morning. There are no shows before preschool. After school, you’ll have lunch. Then you can watch a show. Then you’ll have a nap.” He said, “Okay!” went back to bed, and promptly fell asleep.

Children like to know what’s coming. You’ll wear this shirt, eat cereal in your blue bowl, drive in our red car to school. A few details (not all!) help them picture themselves walking through their day.

Leave out the color of the cereal bowl, and we adults benefit from visualizing our day, too.

Charles Duhigg writes that people who visualize their upcoming meetings, interactions, and day in more detail are more productive. (In Smarter, Faster, Better)

Visualization is one of the four steps in Darius Foroux’s effective evening ritual. By visualizing tomorrow in detail, he wakes up motivated and is less apt to hit the snooze button. 

(A variation on this evening ritual is helpful for kids, too. Reflect on the day, talk about what was hard, celebrate small wins, let the kids know the plan for tomorrow — the bits that apply to them.)

Protect Grounding Rhythms

“Yes, rhythm makes children feel more secure. Absolutely. But a sense of rhythm makes adults calmer too, and less plagued by parental craziness.” — Kim John Payne, in Simplicity Parenting

Rhythms are grounding moments. Predictable still points in an otherwise busy day. 

Protect grounding rhythms — morning coffee, after school playtime, an evening walk. Photo by Taylor Franz on Unsplash.

Rhythms can be daily. Sipping your morning coffee in the same mug, in the same chair every morning. An evening ritual (for you and the kids). A morning walk. An after-school snack. A show for the little kids during dinner prep. A walk after dinner.

Rhythms can be weekly. Laundry day. Library day. Church. Friday night pizza. Saturday morning waffles. Game night. Movie night. Visiting the grandparents.

Rhythms can be seasonal. Strawberry picking. Apple picking. Holidays. Family reunions. Planting a garden. 

A few fixed points in the day and week bring stability to an unsettling season. 

During a transition, your calendar might look emptier than you’re used to. Don’t obsess over getting the entire schedule right. But do set some rhythms.

Children crave continuity. The time of day doesn’t matter but a predictable order of operations is calming. After school, I play outside, then I come in for a snack, then I watch a show. Even short, repetitive rhythms are helpful.

Compare In the Right Direction

Don’t Compare with the Neighbors

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. — Psalm 14:30

Nothing chases away peace of mind quicker than comparisons.

Do compare with where you’ve come from. Don’t compare with those whose journey looks nothing like yours right now.

How are you doing now compared to your first day? Are you more comfortable getting around? Have you or your kids made a friend? What have you learned? Has your soul done some growing

Celebrate small wins. They matter.

Don’t Compare with Your Ideal

“The way to measure your progress is backward against where you started, not against your ideal.” — Dan Sullivan

Yesterday, I typed, “Celebrate small wins. They matter.” 

All the while, I was comparing my day to my ideal day. I wrote —  but not enough. I did good work — but not enough. It’s not long before this line of thinking lands on I am — not enough.

Thanks to Benjamin Hardy for the timely reminder. The right direction for comparisons is looking back. I wrote a lot more than I used to. I finished things (just not all the things). 

Measuring against a vague and lofty ideal will always leave me wanting. Hardy calls this the Gap. 

“When you measure your life by the Gap, then it doesn’t matter what you achieve. You’re always coming up short. Thus, it doesn’t matter how much you achieved in a given day, it wasn’t enough. Therefore, regardless of all that happened that day, it is viewed and remembered unfavorably.” — Benjamin Hardy

Don’t compare to your neighbor who is putting in a gorgeous garden for the 12th year in a row. Don’t compare to your dream home. Or to your perfect week. 

Compare to the mess of boxes that filled your living room two weeks ago. Compare to the week when dropping off kids took three hours. It’s not perfect yet. It never will be. 

Just look at how far you’ve come.

How to Transition Well

Remember this is a season for transition. That in itself is a big task. 

Put in the effort to transition well. Don’t beat yourself up when that means you don’t have energy to do all the other things. Those are for a different season.

Stick with your intention. Honor your limits in time, energy, and willpower. Protect grounding rhythms for yourself and your family. Celebrate small wins. Look how far you’ve come!

Colleen’s four kids learned to walk on three different continents. She knows transitions can be overwhelming and writes to help others enjoy the journey and engage in community. Wherever they call home. Visit Colleen at ColleenHiggs.com.
Colleen’s four kids learned to walk on three different continents. She knows transitions can be overwhelming and writes to help others enjoy the journey and engage in community. Wherever they call home. Visit Colleen at ColleenHiggs.com.

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