I’m sure you’ve heard of affirmations and positive self-talk by now. I am sure you know that on some level, they are useful tools to build your self-worth and self-esteem; however, I am also sure that there are times in which the statements are too much of a stretch for you. If the gap between your current mentality and the positive affirmation is too wide, you are likely to give up and avoid practicing. So, what’s the answer???
The answer is “what if”.
What if you believed them. What if you added “what if” to the beginning of the affirmation as a bridge to cross the wide gap? Take a look at the affirmations below and I’ll show you below how to implement the “what if” strategy!
You may struggle to believe “I have the power to control my thoughts”, especially if you struggle with anxiety and rumination. If it feels like Susie Sunshine is harassing you in reading that first affirmation, try reading git like this:
“What if I have the power to control my thoughts?” …does that feel any more realistic? I feel like it can make a huge difference in the choices you make because if there is a chance that you DO have power and control over your thoughts, you might be less likely to give into your next impulsive urge!
Let’s look at the last one on the pink page for a second example: “I am worthy of good things”. If you are struggling with that idea, try stating internally “what if I am worthy of good things?” and let your day unfold from there!
What do you think…are you more likely to use affirmations if you could add “what if” as the bridge?
I cannot express enough, the power and efficacy of progressive muscle relaxation. By and large, it is one of the best treatments for stress and anxiety. For my clients struggling with chronic anxiety, difficulty falling asleep, and the stress of a chaotic lifestyle, I routinely recommend this type of meditation. I encourage you to utilize this video as a way to sink into a calm mental place and enjoy the peace it brings.
If you tend to be an anxious person, progressive muscle relaxation is a simple and easy tool that can take your baseline from an 8/10 to a 5/10 which will improve focus, improve sleep, decrease racing thoughts, release muscle tension…all for free!
Modern technology is quite a blessing in this regard. Gone are the days when you would have to purchase relaxation CD’s…using YouTube, it’s quite simple to find a guided meditation that works for you and your style. Consider searching terms such as “progressive muscle relaxation”, “paced breathing”, loving kindness, and/or relaxation meditation.
I have found that most of us do not want to do the hard work. We are impatient and want instant gratification. We want the quick fix and as soon as our symptoms of distress are alleviated, we regress right back to what we were previously doing…despite evidence to the contrary, despite knowing what got us in over our head in the first place.
Take some examples:
How many of you take your antibiotic prescription AS PRESCRIBED for the entirety of the recommended prescription? A lot of people quit taking it about 75% of the way through the recommended course. A large percentage of these people also get mad when their symptoms return (with vengeance) and they need another doctor appointment and stronger medications the second time around. Furthermore, not taking antibiotics as prescribed is one of the top 5 causes of the antibiotic resistance we are seeing in the medical field.
How many of you like commercial breaks? I remember when commercials would come on network TV during childhood (before DVR!!!) and it was NO.BIG.DEAL. Yet now…how infuriating are the 30 second ads on Youtube or Hulu! We can’t handle having to wait. Fun fact: a study by Nielson found that 45% of DVR recorded commercials are still watched.
How many of you would say you were a good driver when you started out? Always vowing to fill the car with gas when it hit ¼ of a tank, always wearing your seatbelt, never texting when driving, always abiding by the speed limit? And on how many of those things have you slid back from? According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of deaths from distracted driving has been steadily increasing, up to over 3400 in 2015.
How many of us have a “bedtime”, a “diet plan”, a “workout routine” …and how many of us keep them? The amount American’s spend on dieting each year continues to rise, up to $65 Billion in 2010 and 90-95% of dieters regain all of their weight. We reach for and pay for a marketed quick fix and (shocker) it doesn’t actually work, we never change our core habits related to our physical health and thus end up on a viscous cycle. If you actually want physical health, you have to live a physically healthy lifestyle every day.
As a culture, we have grown pretty lazy and entitled! We want all the results without the hard work! We want what we want, when we want it! Part of real therapy (the kind where you truly get better) is a willingness to do the hard work and a willingness to hear the hard stuff from your therapist without heading for the door. I am asking your, begging you rather, to do some self-exploration on this topic. Are you willing to delay gratification and learn to tolerate being uncomfortable for the betterment of your future?
GOALS THAT ARE WORTH REACHING TAKE WORK. HARD WORK.
I personally love to hike. I hike alone (with no head phones) …just me and nature. I also try to instill a love of hiking to my girls; taking short and fun hikes with them a few times a month! Hiking has always provided me with a sense of peace and for some reason a greater ability to solve problems. It’s a pastime that my mom encouraged from a very young age. I don’t remember a vacation that didn’t contain walking explorations, be it mountains, caves or beach. I always joke that when I am stressed out, I need to get out into the woods and according to recent research, I was onto something!
A research study from Stanford found a clear and measurable connection between hiking and reduced depression. One of the best parts of this study is that it found that walking in a nature setting vs an urban setting resulted in BRAIN changes that are in line with decreased depression, anxiety, rumination, and improved memory. They are finding that 50% of human population lives in urban settings (which is set to rise) along with that statistic, there has been a continued rise in anxiety and depressive disorders!
We also know that in the last 20 years, there has been an increased amount of people playing videogames. This includes kids as young as toddlers and the video games are getting more and more realistic, fast paced, and violent! Now add in the fact that most school districts are now forcing the students to do much of their work on laptops or tablets, as young as kindergarten. We have a generation of kids who spend ALL DAY looking at screens. In 2005, Richard Louv wrote a book called Last Child In The Woods in which he coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder. He proposes that children are spending less and less time in nature, causing more and more behavioral problems.
I agree, not only for kids though…adults too…
I think what we NEED to do is clear. Think about it.
Mindfulness is not only a hot topic in our culture today; it is a fantastic tool that anyone can utilize to gain immeasurable benefits. Many people equate mindfulness to meditation. This is accurate and inaccurate at the same time. Mindfulness is a large umbrella concept, meditation does fall under the umbrella; however so do many other techniques. Mindfulness is merely choosing to focus all of your attention on one thing, one task, or one thought.
Under the mindfulness umbrella, there are two main techniques:
Focusing your attention ON something or some task.
Clearing your mind
Frequent feedback that I get is that the first type of mindfulness is easier. In our culture, focusing on something is much more acceptable than focusing on nothing. There is a judgment that focusing on something is still accomplishing something, while clearing your mind is a “waste of time”.
Focusing on SOMETHIING can take almost any form: purposeful conversations with eye contact and no cell phones, choosing to read a book with limited distractions, painting, doing a puzzle, breathing techniques, body scan, yoga, fully throwing yourself into a sport or exercise etc. The goal is that you control your attention as opposed to blowing through the breeze at its mercy. When being mindful, you may notice distracting thoughts or urges; however you choose to let them pass.
Clearing your mind may indeed be more difficult; however the benefits are life changing. What I hear most often is that it’s weird or the people don’t “know how” to do it. Clearing you mind can happen in many forms. Zen mindfulness suggests sitting upright and comfortable in a meditation position. The only goal is to sit upright and still. Thoughts will rise and fall, we don’t judge or cling to them if possible. Sitting periods can be anywhere from 60 seconds to hours at a time. There are of course other ways to meditate: prayer, reciting mantras, contemplating an issue, chanting, listening to classical or calming music etc.
So why should you buy into this? Because it works! I will admit I was a skeptic at first. I thought people would make fun of me or judge me (and perhaps they do…). I didn’t think I could “make time”…I was too busy! I began practicing as to not be a hypocrite. The benefits I experienced are right in line with the numerous studies out there and include: boosted mood, mental clarity, improved ability to problem solve, increased feeling of connection, increased wisdom, improved productivity, optimism, and confidence to name a few.
I urge you to give it a try. Start with stopping several times per day to intentionally focus your attention on the task at hand. If you are walking, walk. Feel the knee swing through, the weight transfer from foot to foot, and stop ruminating. If you are working, work. Stop multi-tasking, pay attention to the ink on the paper, to your fingers on the keyboard, to the voice on the phone. If you are watching TV, watch TV. Stop eating, stop folding laundry, put your phone down and just watch TV.
Once you feel confident in your ability to control your attention in those ways, begin several times per day to stop and breathe. Just stop what you are doing and take 10 deep, slow breaths. Center yourself, and then carry on with the task at hand.
Finally, intentionally choose to block out time in your day to practice a formal sitting meditation practice. Whether 5 minutes or 50 minutes, just take time to sit and be still. What have you got to lose?
Worth is the value of something placed on it by society or yourself. Worth is subjective and is up for discussion which is why some people have a difficult time believing a compliment or internalizing positive beliefs about themselves.
I am sure you can think of an item you own (or owned in the past, even as a child) that you placed more worth on than society would have, it came from within. For me, I have had a treasured rock collection, special tattered quilts, and I currently still have a Fozzie Bear Muppet Baby figurine that is precious to me from my childhood. I place high worth on them, and I am aware that other people may not find them to be worth anything at all.
Improving your self-worth must come from within. You will need to determine that you are worthy of your own time, attention, and resources and until you do that, it is likely that others will ignore your requests and will see you as a push-over. People with low self-worth often make jokes at their own expense and are not likely to speak up for their preferences. If others laugh along at the jokes or do not pick up on minor preferences that are casually mentioned, the person uses their confirmation bias to determine that it is proof of their low worth. I mentioned earlier in the book that I would use your love for your children to manipulate you: this chapter is one place I will do that. If you want your children to have healthy self-worth, you must lead by example.
Self-esteem and self-worth can be thought of as synonymous. Self-esteem cannot be bought; it must be earned. That means that unless you set a goal and struggle to reach it (be that at work, with parenting, in a hobby, financially, etc.), you will not feel good about yourself.
Ideas for Raising your Self-Worth:
Treat your body as a sacred place.
This means that you recognize the mind-body connection and treat your physical body accordingly. You understand that chronic stress and anger take a dramatic toll on your physical and emotional well-being. You can reverse that toll by taking the steps that you know lead to healthier life.
Stop smoking and/or vaping.
Drink water as a primary beverage.
Go for walks.
Eat fruits and vegetables every day.
Limit fast food and junk food.
Visit the dentist twice per year and the primary care doctor yearly.
To prioritize any of the mentioned suggestions here for healthier living forces you to engage in an action that only someone who thinks their life is worthy would do. You might have to “fake it” initially, but I know that over time you will develop a sense of pride over the healthy choices you are making. In time, that pride will increase your self-worth!
Values-based living is a concept that I introduced in chapter one. If you have time, go back, and re-read that section and see if you have taken any strides toward values-based living in the time it has taken you to read the last 4 chapters. If you have not taken any actions that are aligned with your previously identified values, that is ok! That might be a sign to pick a different value to start with, to recommit to your prior plan, or to evaluate what got in your way and problem solve it.
Living according to your values raises your self-worth because it is not always a convenient thing to do, and yet you are taking actions that tell yourself and the world, that you are worth it. You are worth your own time, attention, and resources.
Journal and meditate.
Self-reflection is not something a person does if they think they are worthless. They do not believe their thoughts, time or attention are worthy of evaluation or recording on paper. They believe they are disposable and that others see them as disposable. I hope that you do not believes those things about yourself.
Journaling can help us to see patterns in our thinking and your behaviors. When we find problematic patterns, we can journal to explore solutions and problem solving. In doing so, you give yourself the message that your problems are worth solving, your moods are worth improving and your relationships are worth saving.
Meditation achieves a similar result without the writing. When you meditate in any fashion (such as clearing the mind, listening to a meditation recording, focusing on a mantra or affirmation, praying, etc.) you will generally find a sense of peace and clarity that seems to magically improve your abilities to cope, and problem solve. You would not take time for such an activity if you did not believe you deserved such an experience. I believe that meditating and journaling on a regular basis will improve your self-worth because they are actions that tell yourself that you are worth your own time and energy!
Celebrate your wins (somewhat unapologetically).
People who have low self-esteem feel ashamed and embarrassed by their accomplishments. They are likely to think that they don not deserve celebration and/or their success was a fluke. If you fall into this category, you will need to practice acknowledging that you worked hard and that your success was earned, and you will need to accept compliments and/or praise from others with a “thank you” and not a self-deprecating remark. Your success is just as well earned as anyone else’s. You made the choices in life that yielded the results you have; when it pans out in your favor, accept the congratulations from others and pat yourself on the back!
Give it a try! I can tell you all day long that you have worth…but that doesn’t mean you will believe me.
Let’s face it…change is difficult, complex, and overwhelming at times. Everyone struggles with different parts of the change process, and I have found a visual reference (no citation was given for me to provide) that will help you find where you might missing the stepping stone to achieve the meaningful change that you want in life!
If you have read this far then I know you want change. Change is the outcome of the top row; if you follow the equation provided, you are likely to experience change. The reality is though, that we often end up trying to change but get confused, anxious, resistant, frustrated or we end up preparing to change but never actually doing it (false start)! I will walk you through the grid below; however, you first need to identify what one situation is that you are struggling to get change with, and which of the 5 outcomes you keep ending up with (aside from the change).
After defining the concepts below, I will walk you through my problem with consistent exercise as it can be an uphill battle for me, and I have experienced all of the listed outcomes during different seasons of life!
Key concepts needed:
Vision is what you want to see your life become. It is the goal you set for yourself. Your personal vision is an idealistic future that you are setting for yourself related to one facet of life. Your vision helps for you to identify what to strive for and what you want to achieve. Having a vision will empower you to steer all relevant decisions toward achievement of the idealized future. This is important it will allow you to know when you’ve achieved your goal! Articulating your vision should ideally help you feel motivated and will comfort your anxiety by defining the goal.
A vision statement is generally short, sweet and to the point. It is generally simple enough for anyone to read and understand; this is important for you as well, I do not want you to read it months later and forget what you meant by the words you used! Vision statements will require time to achieve; I’d suggest setting personal goals that take at least one year to achieve but don’t extend beyond a five-year goal. We need to set something that is achievable in a time frame that keeps us motivated AND that is realistic. Change does not happen overnight and I see many people stumble with this…we all want the quick fix.
An ideal vision statement contains measurable components, a personal component that makes sense based on your circumstances, and how it will improve connection to others.
As you can see in the grid, if you do not have clearly defined vision statement, you will end up with confusion! You are likely to jump on fad bandwagons (fitness, diets, trends, etc.) and you will lack direction overall in life. A vision statement is a necessary part of change!
For my vision related to my physical fitness, I state: My vision is: I will feel able to keep up with my kids and husband when hiking the National Parks and will live my life with minimal joint pain and exhaustion. I will be saying “yes” more than I say “no” as it relates to physical activities with those I love.
Skills, skills, skills. We are taught a lot of things in elementary school. I can sing the 50 United States in alphabetical order, I can tell you random facts about history and I can tell you about primary, secondary and tertiary colors…but did we learn how to problem solve, budget or communicate….? (nope!). It is not your fault if you are lacking in the skills needed to achieve your goal but it is something you can work to change.
I love how normalized self-help books, blogs and topics are in our world. If you feel that you need the skills associated with achieving goals, I’d encourage you to check out my book Adulting Well for practical and relatable help in different life domains (if you tell me you are buying as a result of this blog post, I will gladly sign it for you)!
Skills are required to gain the confidence needed to tackle difficult goals and not end up in the pit of anxious despair, beating yourself up! There is not one magic skill; rather you will have to continually assess and reassess where you are in life and alter your course accordantly.
I gained the skills needed to achieve my goals in several ways: I consult with personal trainers every few years to fine tune my plan, I have accountability buddies in my life to help remind me to get to the gym and eat well, in seasons where my motivation is lacking I find fitness classes to be helpful.
Humans are animals. Animals can be trained. To be trained, animals need reinforcement. A reinforcer is anything that is likely to increase the odds of the behavior happening again. A positive reinforcer is something given that you want (treat, item, kind words, sticker) and a negative reinforcer is the removal of something that you want removed (removal of an unpleasant task, removal of discomfort, removal of guilt). The reinforcer can come from an external source such as an accountability partner, a spouse, a friend, or a paid professional or from within yourself. I suggest building in both!
I have noticed that we are quicker to jump to self-punishment instead of reinforcers. We think that it will help motivate us; however, research and your own experience continues to prove that idea WRONG. If beating yourself up with your words and actions helped, we would all be perfectly productive in our goals! Scientific research has shown again and again that punishment is the least effective method for changing behavior. If you would like to learn more on this, check out Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot The Dog.
Without incentives animals/humans do not engage in behaviors that are difficult or cause discomfort. Without incentives, you will be resistant to change and can end up being resentful of the change! Resistance is not the desired outcome, change is.
In order to reinforce myself for my goal of increasing and maintaining consistent physical exercise, I use a few reinforcers. I have a behavior chart in my journal in which I check off the days that I exercise (my definition of exercise is important. Initially I gave myself credit if I went to the gym, went on a hike or bike ride, or walked 7000 steps per day. As I found myself achieving the goal most days, I raised the bar and separated exercise from 7000 steps per day. I wanted 7000 steps to be my baseline and wanted to do physical exercise at least four times per week. My other rewards have included but are not limited to a new water bottle/workout clothes after hitting pre-defined goals, allowing myself to watch a show only after I exercise, certain “gym-only” playlists, encouragement from my friends, kids and husband, positive self-talk and self-encouragement, and noticing my gains such as improved energy and stamina. Please notice that there is not one answer, there will need to be a variety of reinforcers that come together for the benefit of incentivizing your success.
What in the world do we mean by resources? Resources are assets that can be pulled from by a person or function effectively. Without resources you will be very frustrated because you will not be able to achieve your goals! If your goal requires you to pay a fee, the needed resource is money. If your goal includes producing artwork, your resource would be the art supplies. If your goal includes socializing, your resources might include therapy to learn the anxiety management skills.
Your resources are the items, funds, and/or people required to achieve the goal. I say required to highlight the fact that without the appropriate resources, you will not be able to achieve the goal! You can have a clear vision, great motivators, and amazing skills; but without the resources required, the goal will be intangible.
The resources I needed to achieve my goal included: the money required for a Beachbody on Demand subscription for at home workouts (as I have three kids and cannot always get to a gym), the money for a gym membership to Planet Fitness for days that I can get to the gym, weights and at home workout gear which I purchased used, workout clothing and a water bottle. Money was a resource needed for each step of the way. When money was tight, I skipped the Beachbody subscription and used free workouts on Youtube which was adequate; however, Wifi and a device were still needed resources. Time is also a needed resource, so I have had to hone my time management skills to make time.
Our action plan needs to take reality into account. It is not realistic that you will move from A to Z with ease. It is not likely that you will avoid the storms and unexpected barriers that life throws at us (which often require skill and resources to overcome). Full acceptance that there will be unpredicted upsets will allow you to develop and action plan that builds in the needed coping skills and reinforcers to move past the storms without giving up.
Examples of these pitfalls include but are certainly not limited to family crisis, financial difficulties, medical problems and injury, hormonal fluctuations, dips in motivation, temptations to engage in other activities. I encourage you to do introspection on what has gotten in the way in the past to be sure you add them to your plan.
Aside from your awareness and plan for the pitfalls, your action plan needs to be a specific set of steps that attend to all logistical concerns you can think of the where, what, when, how, and who of your goal. An action plan needs to be broken down into a simple, easy to follow set of guidelines and steps. Your action plan likely needs to include:
a list of people you can delegate tasks to.
the logistics of who, what, when, where and how.
your supporters and reinforcers and how/when you will use them.
a clearly defined outcome so that you will know whether you met your goal.
clearly defined steps to take to achieve identified tasks.
Without an action plan, you will end up experiencing “false starts”. You might hear yourself say “I intending to change but never actually change” or “I’ve wanted this for years; I don’t know why I can’t get myself to do it”. Without an action plan, the goal remains too vague and abstract.
My action plan includes sitting down on Sunday evening to review my schedule (including my kids and husband’s) and the weather. I plug in times that I can get to the gym (bearing in mind that I need a two-hour window at minimum to be able to drive to and from the gym, workout, shower and do my hair and make up for the next part of my day. If I have a shorter window, I often do go to the gym still but have a plan to only do weights and to try not to sweat since I will not have time for the shower. The weather comes into play because we look for a few “pick days” to engage in outdoor activities which count as exercise: hiking, biking, swimming. My action plan for the night before includes planning what I am going to wear at the gym, whether I need to take it to work with me, and planning food so that I have the energy to go. My action plan includes communicating the proposed schedule to my husband so that he can let me know if he sees any barriers. I have also noticed that I have a habit of driving to the gym but sitting in my car and scrolling social media before I go in (thus wasting my time resource). I have addressed that by making social media an incentive: if I work hard at the gym, I allow myself down time on the stationary bike to cool down and scroll.
I believe you can do this. I believe you can make meaningful change. This grid can help guide you and help you to identify stumbling blocks PRIOR to them causing you to face plant. I encourage you to take some time to journal on the points mentioned here so that you can make the changes that you want to see in your life!
I’m sitting here on my back patio listening to my 2 year old cry because I am not pushing her on the swing, my 6 year old is asking 5 questions per minute that I’m half-heartedly trying to answer, and my 8 year old was forced against her will to being her Barbie’s outside to play. I am home with my kids while my husband got to have his early morning photography time – something we try to build in once or twice per week. I am trying to work on this blog and grow my business (Your Mental Restoration).
I don’t do it all. I won’t do it all. I cannot possibly do everything and I accept that! I CAN choose where my attention goes. I CAN give myself permission to feel accomplished when I tackle something mindfully. In this moment, I am empowering my children to learn to play self-sufficiently (against their will), I am empowering myself to carve out time for my interests and values and I am empowering my husband to grow his photography business by practicing his skills. I could choose to look at the scenario through a fatalistic lens: I’m failing as a mom because my kids want my attention and I am not giving it. I am failing as a housekeeper because the chores are not being attended to. I am failing as a writer because I have distractions. I fundamentally reject the fatalistic lens. I believe it comes from comparison (ahem Instagram feed) and the belief that other moms, other wives, other writers, etc. are somehow achieving their goals without any barriers. I reject that notion because I talk openly with others and that allows me to know their truth: it isn’t true! Instead of letting shame take over and convince you that you struggle more than anyone else does, I invite you to talk with your friends, peers, and families about the realities of their lives. I think you will find validation and comfort in the fact that they are also having to choose what to prioritize and what to ignore. They have to choose not to beat themselves up for their perceived failures.
Everyone struggles to juggle the identities, roles and tasks in their lives.
How many basketballs do you think you could hold?
I’d venture to say that at any given time, I could probably hold three…but not well. I think of the various life “shoulds”, to-do list tasks, expectations and roles as metaphorical basketballs. I cannot hold them all at once. If I try to hold too many at once, I end up dropping them and making a fool of myself! I CAN decide which ones I choose to pick up and carry, I CAN decide what I am going to prioritize and where I am going to put my attention. This morning, I’m carrying my “writer ball”, “mom ball” and “self-care ball”. I can switch between making the three of them my top priority (when I get stuck on writing, I play with my kids!) None of them are getting my full attention; however, because I am willing to accept the limitations of time, I absolve myself of any guilt related to the state of my house, my inbox, my friendships, etc. I’ll pick up those balls later…
So how do I do it all? I don’t! I do what I can, when I can. I allow myself the freedom to NOT have intense levels of guilt and shame over the things I do not do, while allowing myself to feel pride and satisfaction in the tasks that I DO accomplish.
Resentment, animosity, jealousy, hurt and loneliness are not words anyone wants to use to describe the partnership they have with your spouse. What do spouses fight over? Marriage failure statistics do not agree on the primary reasons for divorce. I have seen money troubles, communication difficulties, and an uneven distribution of weight in the relationship as some of the most frequently cited reasons from couples counselors and divorce attorneys alike. If we look into those reasons, it wouldn’t be difficult deduce that the concept of domestic labor disputes are a common thread! Feelings of inequality in a relationship will lead to resentment, animosity, jealousy, hurt and emotional loneliness. From there it is not a far leap to end up with an affair, substance abuse or domestic violence (three of the other top cited reasons for divorce.)
If this topic is important to you and you have not yet read The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, you need to. You can find a summary of her key points here, however I’d recommend a full read. Melinda covers a lot of ground in this book on gender inequities around the world; however, I want to tune-in particularly to the equality gap found within domestic labor in the home. Melinda refers to tasks such as cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and running errands as “unpaid work” and in this article I am using the term “domestic labor”, they are one in the same. Melinda cites research that finds a gap in all cultures (in India for example it’s 6:1 with women doing 6 hours of unpaid work per day and men doing 1, in the United States the ration is 4:2.5. There is clearly a disparity that needs to be addressed and openly discussed in homes across the world.
My stance, albeit controversial, is that there is not a way to have a truly even distribution of domestic labor and furthermore, trying to achieve a truly even distribution will reek havoc on your marriage as one person will always feel like they did more. Someone will feel that their load of laundry had more socks in it, the day they mowed the lawn was hotter, the kids were harder to control when they had them…
A marriage is a partnership, it is a mutually agreed upon relationship in which you and your spouse agree to work toward common goals. These common goals include keeping the house, maintaining the the yard, parenting the children, etc. all in agreed upon conditions. In general, I agree that there should be an equal division of labor…over a long period of time (such a a year). I suggest looking at longer periods of time because it is a normal life occurrence for each partner to have natural ebbs and flows in their career/paid workload (such as tax season for an accountant), their health (perhaps pregnancy or after an injury or surgery), or the demands of their extended family (such as taking care of their ailing parents). Partners need to have faith that if their partner is not able to keep up their end of the workload for periods of time, there is not a personal insult attached. The tides will turn back to normal and there will also be times where the workload tips completely in the other direction.
All of that being said, if you look at a longer chunk of time (such as one year) and feel the balance is lacking, it is time for a conversation. Gaslighting, excuses, defensiveness and blame would all be red flags. A respectful conversation about workload can and should happen several times throughout the year to share feelings and prevent the build up of negativity.