Updated: May 2, 2020
When planning for what is a momentous day - one you hope you'll never have to repeat - it is terribly easy to become caught up in the details that, when your wedding day finally arrives, you barely notice. In times of stress it is easy to confuse and lose sight of what is really important, concentrate too much energy on extensive lists and forget that what you are planning for is a special day; a day in which enjoyment should take centre stage.
Yes, I did just say that: enjoyment should take centre stage. Not the dress, the cake, the venue, the decor. A wedding is about making a moment in time; making a special memory everlasting; uniting yourself with the person you love most in the world.
It's easier said than done, right? It is. But it can be done.
Instead of thinking of your wedding as a huge balloon of perfection, think of it as a series of small but exciting challenges you want to work towards; or a series of goals you want to reach. Breaking it down into a series of chunks will make it more enjoyable and cause you less and less stress as you work through each one, particularly if you view the completion of each goal as a reward.
Rewards make us happy thanks to dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical utilised by the human brain and current thinking in Science has pointed to (a very generalised view) that when you want a hit of dopamine, set a goal and achieve it.
Not surpirsingly, our brain isn't quite as simple as this. While meeting set goals can increase dopamine, stress causes an increase in cortisol which in turn depletes (among other chemicals) dopamine levels. As the dopamine levels reduce further, enthusiasm and motivation decrease, while lethargy increases; the more stressed you become during planning, the more difficult it is to motivate yourself to continue, leading to even more stress.
In modern life, it is very very difficult - perhaps impossible - to avoid stress but we can take steps to manage stress. Stress occurs when our brains perceive a threat or a potential threat that we cannot control; therefore, if we can strive to stay in control, we can limit our exposure to threat and therefore limit our susceptibility to stress.
By approaching your wedding planning as a series of goals to be met, you increase the chances of being able to stay in control at every stage of the planning process and continually experience the rewards that keep you on track. Once again, the notion of reward is surprisingly complicated. Avid gamers will experience rewards for meeting goals and targets (progression to the next level; credits to buy objects to support completion; points etc.), a different reward type from that experienced by an employee receiving a large bonus. But there are less tangible and materialistic rewards which can be gained from the many situations in which we find ourselves.
Rewards can come from the impact we have on others, the skills we develop and even the achievement experienced when reaching an end goal. And let's not forget the feeling of pride, satisfaction, relief; the wave of happiness experienced when we do reach a goal or complete a challenge. Ultimately, the more we embrace these positive feelings, the more motivated we become to reach our goals and the happier we are as we progress through them.
And what if we don't reach one of our set goals? Instead of allowing one bad moment to throw off weeks, months or even years of brilliant work, it is crucial to focus on what has been good and try to tune into the rewards that you've experienced until that point. Mark Manson's advice in The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*** is excellent:
“We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond. Whether we consciously recognize it or not, we are always responsible for our experiences.”
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The Subtle Art of not Giving a F***, Mark Manson.