I hear a lot of people say these days that it is okay not to be at your most productive when there is a pandemic to fight and when you are locked inside your house 24/7 while trying to do remote work, homeschool your kids, wash your hands 500 times a day, and keep your mind sane. Yes, it is okay. Personally, I’m getting a little tired with this “It’s okay to…” rhetoric, the point of which is to say it’s okay to not be your best self. Fine. It is also okay to decide that you will make the most of this time and use it instead of letting it use you. Intentionally.
We are all bombarded by stories of the pandemic and different nations, governments, and individuals tackling the crisis in their own ways. As your life is already limited by the fact that social isolation is the dominant policy in most of the Western world, and chances are that you are encouraged or forced to do remote work, don’t let any public discourse or social media opinion flush over you and decide for you how to make most of the time that you spend inside in social isolation. Make sure it is YOU who decides, not newspapers, social media influencers, or any other instance driven by their own agenda.
Yes, if you have children or other people to take care of, doing remote work while homeschooling and keeping the everyday life somehow running on track is not easy. You are not able to use your time the way you wish, in fact, the sense of personal freedom to choose might even be less than normally. However, you can always decide about something. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking Covid-19 circumstances, however they are represented in any media, decide everything for you. If nothing else, you decide your attitude.
Comfort should not be your only goal
For many of the people reading this, life is comfortable and privileged beyond anything our ancestors could have imagined. Moreover, due to popular selling tactics, we tend to think that we deserve this and that. Deserving special treatment, deserving a little pampering… yes, that is a strategy that market people use to sell us illusions of a good life, also and especially in the current strange circumstances. You are supposed to be a person that is good for themselves using for example food, entertainment, and other “treats”. My concern is that this can also be a never-ending trip of thinking that you always need to reward yourself for something and that this must be done by consuming, in one way or another. When you tell yourself “I deserve this”, make sure you are not just following a clever marketing technique that tells people to pamper themselves because we are all so anxious due to the Covid-19 situation. Make also sure that you are not seeking comfort over meaningful ways to use your days.
Of course it is important to take care of yourself and your loved ones. The world is shaken by anxiety and fears as we are facing the common enemy of Corona virus, and many of us are locked inside the house with increased demands and challenges of everyday life. In such times, it is important to know how to enjoy life’s small pleasures and take it easy. You can just have a cup of hot coffee and take a nap. But make sure you do it because that is what is best for you, not because you have bought into some idea of “I deserve this because someone tells me now is the time to pamper myself”.
Many people are shooting themselves in the foot by staying in a cycle of comfort-zone driven thoughts, choices, and actions. Life in the comfort zone, focused on what nice things you can give to yourself today, is usually not for your own best interest, no matter how rewarding in the short term it feels.
You can make yourself comfortable and take care of your needs without making this your only or even top priority. I challenge you to see what your personal comfort zone is and reassess the situation; maybe it’s time to stir the status quo of comfort?
Shake the routines
When in a taxing situation, we are very tempted to go back to things we already know -re-read old books, seek the comfort of sticking into a routine. What if there is something bigger beyond the feeling of relief you get when watching your comfort movies? What if doing the counterintuitive thing is exactly what pays off?
Learn something new and see how it feels not to be only filling your mind with something that you already have there. Start from small things. Let yourself see what happens if you read, listen, or do something totally new and unfamiliar to you. Give books, movies, podcasts, music, and people a chance. Try what happens if you, with an open and unjudgmental mind, focus on content and interaction that normally would not interest you. Don’t be afraid of not understanding something or being bored. Just 15-20 minutes of watching a YouTube video your spouse has recommended (but that is not up your alley at all) can be surprisingly fulfilling when you just give it a chance. Give yourself a shake.
Do something you have postponed (because you didn’t feel like doing it)
The right time doesn’t exist. Taking care of that extra project that has been sitting in the cue for five years is NEVER going to sound like a tempting idea, so you should stop letting yourself be limited by what you think is “fun”. Just do it. Continue and finish some old project you have dropped, whether it is finishing writing that book or cleaning the garage; pick a project that is NOT inviting but rather a little annoying.
Here comes the difficult part: do the thing with full concentration and giving your all to it like it was the last thing you were ever going to do in your life on Earth. Don’t get to work with an annoyed, frustrated, or angry mindset, eager to get things done while giving them as little of your mental power as possible. Do exactly the opposite. Pick a thing you want to get done (but really don’t want to get done), and decide to throw yourself into it down to the last details, with a mind that is open and wondering.
When you look at boredom in the eyes long enough, it starts to change its shape. In this way, you are challenging your brain not to go on autopilot when doing something unpleasant, but you open it to learn and experience something new. Perhaps surprisingly, sometimes the route to something new goes through something very old (like that garage that has been needing a cleaning for the past twelve years).
Do nothing, but intentionally
Spare time is just as important as efficient time for you to accomplish things and be happy. Don’t overprogram your free time though. It should be a time and place where your brain gets a rest. And when I say do nothing, I mean it. I don’t mean browse through Facebook or stare mindlessly at a movie. I mean put your mobile away and sit still. See what happens. Don’t expect anything to happen but let anything happen. Give your mind a chance to recover, reorganize itself, reinvent itself. Let go of the constant need to stay on top of things or to check what is going on in the outside World. Let things take care of themselves just for 15 minutes a day, or more.
To write something new you need an empty blackboard. From there, you start again. Every single day.