I’ve recently discovered a sneaky culprit that usually shows up at the end of a long week or when life feels extra full.
He’s sneaky because he doesn’t announce his presence or name his demands. He just seems to show up irritated and discontent.
Who is this culprit?
The disconnect between our values and how we are spending our time.
Our values manifest in our life through various expressions. It could be routines or habits, activities or projects. Our values are embedded in the way we spend our time, but when we consistently feel like we’re not spending our time doing the things we want, stress happens.
Things like exercise, spending time with loved ones, decluttering the house, getting a grip on finances, spending more time reading, or literally anything else. Internally, you’ve said to yourself, “I’d like to do more of this.” Or, “I like things in this particular way.” These may not be sweeping statements or agreements, but subtle internal prompts stem out of your values.
These desires are good, but when they go unacknowledged for too long, we begin to feel frustrated, which can manifest in anxiety, random outbreaks of anger, or a general discontentment. We want to make progress in these areas — we just seem unable.
The frustration we feel when there’s a disconnect between our value system and how we are spending our time is elusive. It doesn’t just come right out and announce why we’re feeling anxious or discontent, it usually remains just below the surface.
When we brought home our second son, it took a while to adjust to the new normal. For me as a dad, going from one to two kids felt harder than zero to one. It’s like someone came along with a giant syringe and sucked out any leftover margin in life.
What took me by surprise was the internal anxiety that slowly built outside my awareness. After sorting through it for a month or two, my wife helped me discover it was this very thing — a disconnect between things I felt I could (should) be doing but wasn’t. There was an unspoken list of internal desires that I was no longer able to do, due to the constraints of this tiny person that just entered my life. I couldn’t be mad at the newborn, but the frustration was real all the same.
When there’s a disconnect between our internal desires and what we’re actually able to fit into our daily/weekly/monthly rhythms, it can be easy to slip into resentment or bitterness.
As the landscape of life changes, we must learn to adapt the expectations of what we are able, or no longer able, to do. What was a breeze in one season of life may no longer be plausible in another — and that’s okay. If we do a little digging, we may find there are other expressions engaging this desire that may be more realistic during this season of life.
My desire to wake up early and get time alone? Not happening with late night feedings and crying babies. Time alone in those early weeks with a newborn was pushed more toward the evening. My brain was usually foggy and fried by the end of the day, but getting 30 minutes to an hour of quiet in my day was still really important. It was no longer the ideal time that I preferred, but I was still able to meet that desire in a slightly different way.
Identify Points of Friction
A good place to start is to be honest with yourself. Recognizing areas of friction is a step toward resolving why you feel that way to begin with.
Frustration is a symptom of something not working. Just as pain is a symptom of sickness. The pain isn’t the problem — the ailment is. If your only plan is pain management, you’re not actually solving the issue. It’s only being prolonged.
- Where do you feel frustration?
- Are there things that you would like to be doing, but have not been able?
- Are there things that you would like to stop doing?
- Are there things that used to be a joy and now feel like a drag or burden?
If we can trace the frustration back to a core desire, we have the ability to make lasting positive change.
Identify Core Desires
Now that we’ve identified the frustration, we need to trace that back to a core desire.
Here are a few examples:
- I have a core desire for deep friendship with my wife. I feel frustrated when an extended period of time goes by without getting quality time with her and getting to share my heart and emotions.
- I have a core desire to be adventurous and active. I encounter frustration when I’m unable to move my body or exercise on a regular basis.
- I have a core desire for spiritual health and growth. I feel frustration when I am unable to regularly find times in my day to pray, meditate, and read scripture.
- I have a core desire for order and cleanliness. I feel frustration when things are constantly in disarray and messy.
We all have different core desires. Some carry greater significance and weight in our life than others. By identifying our desires, we are able to trace our frustration back to the root and find a solution.
Change Your How
A while back, my wife and I were taking a parenting class because I want to be an awesome dad that wears socks with sandals. In the first class we started with an interesting formula.
Beliefs + goals = Why + how = Solutions
(I thought I was taking a parenting class, not high school algebra)
But it represents this: our beliefs and goals as parents represents why we do what we do and how we do it. This results in our approach to parenting, aka solutions. (All you math majors out there don’t need to point out how incorrect this formula is).
Here’s the important part. If we don’t know our beliefs or goals, i.e. our why, then how we go about parenting could change based on how we’re feeling on a particular day.
We’ve identified some core desires, or you could say beliefs. These beliefs manifest themselves in our life as goals — having a thriving marriage, or being physically healthy, growing spiritually, having a clean house. All of these things are tied to my why. How I accomplish each goal varies endlessly.
- Just because regular date nights are interrupted with a newborn doesn’t mean I can’t find other ways to connect with my wife. I can change how I’m connecting with her.
- Having a newborn in the house is disruptive to my early morning workout routine, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find other ways to be adventurous and active.
- I also used early mornings to spend time in prayer or spiritual growth. Due to later bedtimes, early mornings are no longer an option. I changed how I was going to meet this core desire by using my commute time.
- My core desire for a clean house pretty much exploded with another child. But, if I change how I scratch this itch by shifting it to a smaller area that I can control despite overflowing diapers, toys, and laundry baskets, I can still find a way to meet my core desire in a smaller scale.
Changing your how just means finding another way you can fulfill your core desire that is more suitable to your current season of life. If we fixate on our current how instead of focusing on the why, we only exasperate our frustration. The why is really important, but the how can change.
If early morning workouts is the only way I’m going to meet my need for adventure and physical activity, but I have a newborn, am missing out on sleep, and have no routine, I’m only going to be a ticking bomb ready to explode at any minute. Changing how I’m going to fulfill my why is a liberating mindset that opens up new opportunities.
Remember, Beliefs + goals = Why + how = Solutions.
When you feel the frustration or anxiety levels rising, carve out a few minutes to ask yourself why. It may be an indicator of a disconnect between something you value but haven’t been able to fit in your schedule.
If the frustration is linked to an ability to do a certain activity, can you trace it back to a core desire?
If you’re able to trace this activity back to the value, is there another way you could express this desire? As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Don’t just manage the pain, address the core desire. Do this by changing the expression by which you’re trying to satisfy a core desire.