One thing I have noticed in my own life is that when stress and unresolved conflict builds up, either within myself or with someone else (whether they know it or not), I get neglectful of small things. I fail to make the little decisions that keep life from getting cluttered.
For example, when I am “taking care of business,” on the inside and out, I take care of the mail immediately, when it comes into the house. When I am packing around unresolved conflict, the mail piles up in the kitchen or in my office.
When I can’t figure how to unload my feelings, and I hold them in, I create little messes all over the house—piles of clothes, stinky stacks of dishes, piles of papers from church, unpaid bills, junk mail, books, packaging, a stuffed inbox, unreturned phone calls. Oh, and I don’t eat well, either. I let myself get away with eating food I know is not good for me.
When I get stuck like this, I don’t see or think things through, and I don’t clean up after myself.
Looking over my life, I realize that when I do this, I am not just avoiding a pile of paper: I am dodging something else, something that I am afraid to deal with.
Can you relate?
When I get bound up, there are three things that help me. A lot.
The first one is the Three Things Principle. About five years ago, I was sitting on the stand during a sacrament meeting, feeling concerned about all the things I had to do. I was a bishop’s counselor then. The Holy Spirit spoke to me. “Just focus on three things at a time. And write them down.” When I am feeling overwhelmed and burdened, I’ll write three important things down on a piece of paper or an index card and say to myself, in effect, “That’s all you have to worry about right now.” This really works for me. It helps me get moving again.
Another things that really helps me is meditation. Prayerful meditation. I usually do this early in the morning, when the house is quiet and there are few distractions. I do this almost every day. I’ll think through a problem in detail. I’ll think about it and sort through it, over and over. I’ll talk to myself about it and ask myself questions. Or I’ll ask the Lord questions. Questions like: “What’s my next step? What does this person need to hear from me? Why is this happening? How can I serve that person better?”
Finally, there is exercise. Something magic happens when I get my heart rate over 140 beats per minutes. Exercise is not easy. There is a lot of sluggish resistance. But once I get past that resistance, that’s when I break barriers. My thoughts get clearer. I see new possibilities. When I see clearly, I am filled with hope. I know what to do.
When I apply one or more of these three things in my life, on a regular basis, the little piles and messes seem to take care of themselves. I don’t find it so difficult to clean up my messes and I don’t make them so much.
External messes are just a reminder to us that we might have some internal housekeeping to take care of.