The yard work that I did last weekend was slightly grueling as jobs that involve lots of digging, pulling, and squatting tend to be, especially after having taken a long hiatus from this type of work. I was getting sore and I kept having the urge to quit. It would have been fine to have stopped mid job. The Earth would not have shattered. But I also knew in the back of my mind that I feel better when I accomplish something at times when my mind is swirling in ambiguity. “Look at me, World! I can do something from start to finish!”

So, at little intervals, I told myself things like, “If I got the west side of the path done, it would be a completion of something. I’ll just do that much.” Then I finished the west side of the path, which, incidentally was the harder part because it was full of small tree roots. “I’ll just do a little bit more,” I told myself. I also moved a bag of soil mix from the side of the house to where I was working. I knew that I would be too tired to do that part of the job if I left it to the end. The bag was full of wet soil and weighed a ton.

It was as if a switch had been turned. It was still hard. I was still sore. But I had something I didn’t have before. I had momentum to finish the job. The urges to stop went away and I stopped feeling overwhelmed by the task. I finished every part of it that I had wanted.

I was thrilled that day. The next day, my hamstring muscles were super tight and complaining. They were still complaining the next day. They are almost as tight today. When I was taking my walk today, I kept getting the urge to quit. My legs hurt. I had to walk slowly, which is not very energizing. I told myself to walk to the count of 10 to see if the urge would pass. That helped a little. Then I saw something down the street that I wanted to photograph. That helped a lot, for a short while. And then the sun came out, which made me feel light and energetic, for a short while. The urge was back. Then I noticed that my hamstrings had stretched out some and that I could pick up my walking pace a little. The urge switch was toggled to the off position. I met my goal.

Sometimes I have urges to stop. Other times, I have urges to act and to keep things going, even if it is not the best thing to do. I have urges to help, urges to be right, and urges to reduce my anxiety by controlling a situation or by requesting reassurance. The urges to do are stronger for me than the urges to stop. They come on quickly, so quickly, that sometimes I am acting on them before I recognize them.

These urges involve interpersonal situations. Right now in the class my family is taking, we are working on how to be more effective with other people. We talked about defining and prioritizing three goals: 1) My objectives (for example, being right, changing someone else’s behavior), 2) Maintaining the relationship with the other person, and 3) Maintaining self-respect.

These are all worthy goals, in the abstract. A person could make an inspirational poster for each of these goals. “Keep you eye on the prize!” “Would you rather be right or would you rather have friends?” “Love yourself! Respect yourself!”

A person’s priorities, however, are situation specific. And that’s why I don’t like those inspirational posters! They ignore context! But I digress. Balancing these goals is hard, especially when I act on an impulsive urge instead of thinking things through.

Right now, I am dealing with a difficult interpersonal situation, involving someone who does NOT read my blog. (it’s not you, Mom!)  I’ve been fighting off an urge to act for several days. I could even wrap my actions in high minded and reasonable sounding justifications. But I suspect that I would be lying to myself about my real goals and intentions. I am going to try to let it be.

Watch me! Ready, set, STOP!