*Note from A Chronic Voice: As Lisa demonstrates in this post, we can glean inspiration and insight from many things in life, even if they may seem irrelevant or unrelated. I do believe that knowledge gained is never wasted. It expands our capacity for understanding, and often helps with problem solving in other areas of our lives. Here Lisa shares with us some strategies she learned from a book about career, yet are applicable to the management of life with chronic illnesses. Read on to find out more about it, and how it brings her feelings of happiness and success.
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In Search of Lost Happiness
When I first became sick with a chronic illness my life seemed to stop. Everything, or so it seemed, that I loved vanished in an instant. Adventures with my friends, dancing late into the night, hard-core workouts by day…I felt like I had lost myself. At the same time, I felt like I was drowning in a pool of life’s daily tasks that were quickly piling up on me.
The one thing I knew was that it was up to me to change what I could, to find the pockets of happiness from my old life that still existed and if I wanted to continue to live a happy life I had to find new opportunities for happiness to replace the ones I had lost.
A Life Strategy Gleaned from a Book
However, before I could focus on the positive, I felt I had to get rid of these new feelings of becoming overwhelmed all the time. With limited energy, even the smallest of tasks started to pile up on me and quickly became a long to do list that haunted me day in and out. In my most cynical times, the list almost seemed to mock me. “Ha ha…look how far behind you are. You’ll never catch up now!” That’s when I decided enough was enough!
Luckily, a friend introduced me to the book, “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.” Now you might be thinking – work?? How is a book about work going to help me when I’m stuck at home struggling to sort through my mail or do a load of laundry? That’s the beauty of the book – while its title is focused on increasing success and performance at work, there’s not a single principle in it that cannot be applied to life with a chronic illness.
To illustrate this, I want to share with you the one I found to be most successful for me in this regard. This strategy helped me tackle those unending waves of feeling overwhelmed any time a new task was put on my plate.
What Exactly is ‘The Zorro Circle’?
The Happiness Advantage discusses the Zorro principle. It shares how Zorro did not start out as a world-renown swordsman. At one time he wasn’t a famous swordsman at all but rather a man with very little in his life and many hardships. So how did he grow beyond his limitations, in this case, advance his sword fighting skills? The key to his success was having a circle drawn in the dirt, with him in the middle. He was only allowed to fight and eventually conquer what was in that small circle. As he progressed, the circle widened. Eventually he became Zorro, with a circle as wide as can be and the character we’ve all come to know.
Okay…reality check time! At times we can’t even get off our couch let alone participate in swordsmanship so how does this Zorro story apply to us? The key to his success, and ours, is that very basic principle of drawing a circle in the dirt. In short, we must isolate and conquer.
Isolate and Conquer
So how do we do that? Here’s an example where I had to draw one of my Zorro circles. I was referred to a specialist. Sound familiar? As you all know, with that simple referral comes scheduling the appointment, figuring out how to get records released, finding out if the provider is in network, and on and on. Yikes – it’s exhausting thinking about all these steps.
In moments like these, I need to stop and draw my Zorro circle. I order all these tasks and commit to accomplishing just one of them in a specific time frame. I remove from my mind all related and unrelated tasks; just focusing solely on the one at hand. Silly or not, when I achieve that step, I feel happy and successful! I then widen my circle…just a bit…and set a time frame for my next step and so on. Before you know it, my insurmountable, overwhelming obstacle, is overcome! Success!
You will be amazed at how many tasks the Zorro principle applies to in our daily lives – whether it’s vacuuming the house, doing laundry or making a grocery list, each of these tasks can be broken down into smaller segments. In other words, into its own circle. Start small and build from there. And remember, isolate and conquer! (Why didn’t I think to do this before I got sick too???)
Joy Can be Found in All Moments, Not Just the Fun Times
Admittedly, the reason I started with this strategy was that I felt that I couldn’t find happiness until I figured out a way to overcome these obstacles that were piling up and interfering with my ability to focus on positive, fun opportunities. However, the success I found with accomplishing each of my obstacles, that in and of itself brought me feelings of happiness and success.
While I was buried in the midst of my illness, I clearly had forgotten that joy can be found not just in fun, light moments, but also in achieving what one once thought they couldn’t achieve. Living with a chronic illness often makes what once was possible seem impossible. The Zorro strategy (isolate and conquer!) reminded me how rewarding overcoming big and small hardships can be. Try it – I think you will be surprised at the results!
*Note: This post is meant for educational purposes, and is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding new treatment protocols.
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