The almost casualty of my perfectionism today was delighting in my 2-year olds newfound coloring skills and the fact that I had finally found a “play” activity that I enjoyed as much as my child.  The latter of which has been no small feat and believe me I have tried them all.  

We began the activity each with our own coloring book, but soon after, she moved towards me and kept attempting to color on the page opposite of the one I was carefully coloring.  My first few gestures to shoo her back to her own book were largely out of my immediate awareness, but after the third time I caught myself literally pushing her away, mindfulness thankfully kicked in for me.  “What am I doing” I wondered”, the perfectionist in me was quick to pipe up. “She’s going to color outside the lines!” This was quickly followed by perfectionisms’ [sic] good friend, anxietist, who worried what the picture would look like at the end. 

Fortunately, for me and for her, I was aware of this silly process going on inside of me.  So, I made the values based decision to be with and enjoy my daughter, reveling in the process, instead of being attached to an outcome of how something should be.  I would have thought I’d have learned by now after the 2017 pumpkin craft debacle. Guess which one is mine?

Me singing: “Mary had a little lamb, little lamb…”

Internal thought process: “Geez, how many verses does this song have?” “I’m supposed to be working right now! You’re supposed to be sleeping!”

I feel myself getting frustrated and irritable. I had big plans for nap time today, but my daughter is sick and falling asleep with a stuffy nose and cough is challenging. After my third trip back to her room, I had the bright idea that I would bring my phone and sit on the floor, out of her view, and sing her favorite song. I reasoned that I could get a few things accomplished while I sang.

However, neuroscientist, Earl Miller, a professor at MIT, says for the most part, we can’t focus on more than one thing at the same time. What we are really doing is switching our attention with amazing speed. This gives the impression that we are paying attention to things simultaneously, when, in reality, we are rapidly switching our attention back and forth. The part of the brain responsible for this amazing ability is our executive system (more on this in a future blog post).

Turns out, its true, we really don’t multitask as well as we think. After a couple of verses had words like “coffee” and “attention” dropped in, I gave up. What was I doing anyway, my baby needed me and my mind was somewhere else.

Such a powerful reminder to be present and to let go of our idea of how something is supposed to go, which, by the way, is a surefire way to increase suffering.

One of the most empowering messages to come out of neuroscience is that our very thoughts and where we place attention changes the physical structure of the brain (Donald Altman, MA, LPC).  More importantly, the significance of self-directed neuroplasticity (Jeffrey Schwartz) offers hope to those who feel stuck.  It means the power to change old behaviors and rewire the brain is possible through focused attention.  This process is what alters and rewires brain circuitry, which then changes how we will behave in the future.