It’s been said again and again. We’re experiencing a uniquely challenging time right now. Much of our world has gone quiet, and it’s uncomfortable. It’s different than what we’re used to. And our instinctual behavior is to fill the void or let other things take up the silence we’re experiencing.
This happened to me, especially during the first few weeks of COVID-19 isolation. I actually felt busier, because suddenly, there was time to be filled, and everything sitting on my to-do list suddenly had to get done.
I should declutter, learn a new language, a puzzle sounds interesting right about now. Maybe I should also take my self-care to the next level.
Anything to keep me from being bored. Anything to hold on to a semblance of the life I once had.
Pretty soon, I was overwhelmed with things to do, which was no different than my life pre-isolation. The need to stay busy was a never-ending cycle of distractions. The next thing to be entertained by, the other thing I needed to accomplish — there was never enough time.
Exhausted, a few weeks ago, I just stopped. I stopped depending on outward distractions to keep me entertained. I sat in the quiet to stop the chase of things to do.
That little crack of space began to create awareness about what was really important and magnified the noise I had built around my life based on the need to be productive.
I began the shed those things, one by one, in an effort to remove the mask I wore to represent who I thought I should be, in order to accept who I really was.
It’s been a continual practice, but here are a few things I found to be helpful.
. . .
1. Create space to be still
Many of us will do almost anything to avoid being bored. We scroll our phones, keep an endless list of shows to watch, things to try. We can access almost anything within seconds, and feeding our hunger for constant stimulation has become the norm.
And we all have different reasons for it, but here were mine:
- Fear of being alone with my thoughts. I was afraid of where my mind would wander. It would force me to face my inner self, and what if I didn’t like what was sitting in there? What kind of vulnerabilities, and deep-rooted issues would it expose?
- A perpetual need to be productive. In a world where we largely derive our value from what we produce, I tied my self worth to my productivity.
Research actually shows that boredom can be a good thing. So I let myself sit in the quiet to get comfortable with my own thoughts and release the pressure of having to “go” all the time.
Now, my favorite time of the day is the quiet, uninterrupted time I make for myself to detach from everything else that’s going on, even if it’s just for a handful of minutes.
2. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing when no one is watching
The reality is that we live within the constructs of our society, and all too often, we do things because we’re “supposed” to. For validation, for acceptance, for praise.
But now, people aren’t watching anymore. At least not like they used to, because they can’t. Social plans have been canceled, face-to-face interactions minimized, and everyone hit pause on many of their habits and hobbies.
So, now that the pressure’s off, ask yourself:
- What do you like to do when no one’s watching?
- What are the things you did for acceptance, or attention?
Let yourself do more of the things you like to do when no one’s watching. Commit to doing less of the latter, even when the shields are lifted and we’re back at it, mingling with society.
The things we do for validation and acceptance will never yield a purposeful result. It’s an endless cycle because we’ll always look for approval in those areas elsewhere.
Instead, look within, and take responsibility for your own happiness.
3. Edit your regular activities
In her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, the author, Jenny Odell, shares the following:
It’s amazing how quickly we were able to find substitutions for the things we had to give up through isolation. Happy hours became virtual happy hours. Workout classes became altered at-home exercise routines.
As humans, we’re so good at adapting to change, that we quickly made the adjustments we needed in order to keep the routines we had without much thought around whether or not they still deserved a place in our lives.
By contrast, there were some specific things that couldn’t be replaced, and being in isolation created a hard tug for those things — if they mattered. If they didn’t, we probably didn’t even realize they were no longer a part of our daily lives.
For me, the pull was access to the outdoors. Hiking, surfing, and challenging myself in nature was something I relied upon heavily for my mental and physical health. Once it was taken away, it was the first thing I missed, and I know it’s something I’ll never take for granted again.
So as you think about your activities and routines today, and as you envision the life you’ll go back to once this lifts, ask yourself:
- What are the things that I value?
- What are the things I’m doing out of habit or obligation?
- What are the things I miss and don’t miss?
- Who are the people I crave interactions with? Why?
Then edit your activities.
Let yourself become aware of the things you value, and why those particular things fulfill you. Let yourself miss the things you miss, and take note of them so you can do more of that later.
Release everything else.
. . .
We’re in a unique time. Yes, because of the devastating global pandemic that we’re faced with, but also because we have the opportunity to let this pause teach us what matters most.
This post was previously published on Change Becomes You and is republished here with permission from the author.
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