Throughout the course of this pandemic, through the lockdowns and changing restrictions, life has been a little unstable, to say the least. It’s been hard to find stability while the world’s collective routines have been and continue to be disrupted. We are creatures of habit after all, and we don’t take kindly to changing too much, too fast.
2020 was going to be my year of mental health focus, skill-building, and investing time into side hobbies. While the pandemic didn’t stop me completely, it still puts a big spanner in the plans that I had. The most recent snap lockdown in Melbourne admittedly hit me harder than the previous three before. This taught me that:
1. Don’t make plans, make options.
When plans that we have so carefully crafted fall through, we have to learn to adapt, which is easier said than done. Plans and goals aren’t bad things, not at all, but it’s the importance we place on them that can become the issue. Because when we tell ourselves our happiness rides on us fulfilling our plans and when they fall through or change, it causes us stress, and oftentimes a sense of failure or guilt along with that. If we instead view our goals as less of a checklist to happiness and more of a wishlist, we can allow ourselves to go at our own pace, become more flexible and be forgiving to ourselves if things do go awry.
2. Old habits may die hard, but they can also die fast.
This study found that even long-formed habits which have been built up over years, given a change in environment can quickly fall to the wayside. This is because once well-practiced actions are performed, we need little guidance from conscious intentions to keep doing it, but when trying to form new habits, it requires our full focus, intentions, and energy.
Imagine that you’re in a dense jungle and your goal is to get to camp (the habit), you know where it is but you have to cut a path through all the vines to get there with your machete (your willpower). The first time you carve a path it takes a lot of effort, but after a while, each subsequent time you trek through, your path becomes clearer and clearer and it takes less and less effort, until eventually, you won’t even need your machete because the path is so clear. That’s what forming a new habit is like, the key to staying motivated is understanding the process of what is happening internally. Remember that forming a habit in the first place takes considerable effort, and slowly over time becomes a natural thing – so don’t burn yourself out too early, as you can’t clear the path in one day.
3. Find your thing and keep it sacred.
Sound a bit strange? Let me explain. Whether you live alone, with friends, or in a large noisy household, it’s important to invest your time into a thing that is all yours. It could be a hobby (one of these maybe?), meditation, a book, an exercise, or even a floating session. Whatever it is, it should be a thing that you enjoy solo. Why keep it sacred you ask? It is a vital part of your self-care, to create a literal (or metaphorical) safe space where you are just you, unfiltered.
4. Making things makes you feel good.
If I had to guess how many hours of entertainment, I’ve consumed… I wouldn’t even know where to start. Thinking about all the albums, songs and podcasts I’ve listened to, the shows I’ve watched, or the games I’ve played… that’s a lot of hours of consuming content! While we may not be able to give the world as much as we take, we can at least give it a go. There are so many different avenues for creativity, and most of them we can learn easily on YouTube, FOR FREE! If you’re telling yourself, ‘I’m not the creative type,’ you are wrong. Everyone can make something, and everyone should make something. Feeling good isn’t the only benefit of flexing our creative muscles, along with increased happiness from dopamine comes better productivity, emotional resilience and improved motivation.
Make something with the intention to enjoy yourself, not to produce a polished product or it may cause more harm than good. Afterall, the beneficial effects happen during the art process—it’s not based on the end product.
5. Learn how to do nothing
Sounds counterintuitive? When I say ‘nothing,’ I’m actually talking about mindfulness meditation, and before those words scare you off, I can tell you the simplest way to get started that takes less than 5 minutes – no yoga mat, special app, or robes required! I’m coining it the ‘3×3 method’, but it is also known as 3 breaths (except my version is cooler). What it is: literally 3 deep breaths, 3 times. Here’s what I do to make it stick: I pair it with a daily mundane activity like boiling the kettle, so while the water is boiling, I take 3 deep breaths – focusing on the physical sensation of the breaths – and do those 3 times. That is literally it. No fanfare, no big set up just the simple 3×3 Method™.
I hope you remember these lessons when life throws you a curveball (or snap lockdown). Take 3 deep breaths and repeat 3 times – I assure you, doing ‘nothing’ will feel pretty great.
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