“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…Including you.” –Anne Lamott
If you asked me what fuels my soul and brings me to my happy place – it’s travel. It isn’t just about arriving at the destination but everything that comes before it. The planning, the research and getting immersed in the culture. In the beginning of 2020, my husband and I had a very exciting trip planned to Italy in June to celebrate a cousin’s wedding in Florence. The kids were going to stay with their granny for the week; any parents reading this – you can understand the added bonus! I was dreaming about cooking courses, writing in Italian coffee shops on cobble stone pavements – you get the picture!
Now fast forward a few months and enter Covid-19 pandemic, clearly this trip is no longer happening. I was disappointed when my bubble was burst but I realised that what I was really upset about was the idea of what the trip would give me. Namely – a fresh headspace, the opportunity to relax, experience a new way of being and connection to family.
Technology can solve the connection piece to an extent but not the head-space piece.
Not being able to go meant I had to reflect on how I could create the same mind-set from home because travel was not in my immediate future. I couldn’t rely on something external to give me permission to have some recovery time. The fact that we couldn’t go turned out to be an unknown gift that changed the entire way I have experienced lockdown. Here are some ways you can create the mind-set you are striving towards but in the comfort of your home:
Cultivate a new way of being
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” –Sydney Harris
The pandemic within the pandemic is this thought process of ‘I should be’. When you are working on one task, there is a pull internally that you should be working on something else. When you are with family, you feel guilty that you should be working and visa versa. This guilt and distraction prevents you from enjoying the activity at hand because you are always second guessing if it’s the right thing to do.
If you’re on holiday, do you lie on the beach and think to yourself ‘Is this the right thing to do now, maybe I should rather be going for a walk?’. Never! You are always content and present to your decision. You don’t have a mind-set of time scarcity because you know that once you are done lying on the beach, then you can get onto the next thing later. There isn’t the fear of running out of time in the day. You have the head-space of time abundance.
How would it change your world if you could operate like this now? I came across an interesting book ‘The Joy of Not Thinking’ by Tim Grimes. As someone who falls into the trap of living in my head and over thinking, I found the title fascinating. It is such an incredible read and profoundly influenced how I manage my mind when I am engaged in any task. Tim says:
“Everything is already perfect, whether you like it or not. You become at peace with the moment by recognizing that there’s nothing better than it. And you’ll feel and know this intimately because there’s a deep satisfaction when you’re just here now and not wanting anything else.”
Peace is to be found in this moment. It isn’t something we attain. When we go out looking for it, we miss the point. It isn’t meant to be sought out, at least in the way we traditionally believe. It’s what we allow ourselves to be”.
This resonated with me because I realised I was playing the ‘better deal’ game in my head. If I am playing dolls with my daughter in the afternoon, I’m thinking I should probably be writing or doing something else. I stopped myself and had such a sense of peace that no other moment is going to top this one now. I allowed myself to be fully present with her.
We fall into this trap of FOMO (fear of missing out) and this constant dread of making the wrong decision on where to spend our time. If you adopt the view that there is not anything that could match up to this moment now, then you give yourself permission to enjoy the moment and be fully present.
Understand where your time can’t go
“Lose an hour in the morning and you will spend all day looking for it” – Richard Whately
If you are experiencing the time scarcity mind-set, start by planning your week before you are in it but with a new spin. Think about it differently this time – start by including everybody else’s schedule into the diary first. For example, if you have kids – schedule in their lessons, homework, activities, and your daily zoom call with your team. In this way, you can clearly see what gaps are remaining in the week. Now – insert your self-care blocks, work blocks, house work blocks, etc. If you don’t take all of this into consideration, then you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration because the narrative becomes very self-critical. Having a clear and realistic view of the time available to you will enable you to manage your time better and not panic when something comes up unexpectedly.
Schedule your time ‘as if’
“Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.” –Mark Black
We tend to be kinder to ourselves when we are not in our normal environment, you know the ‘area code’ rule. That massage you would have allowed yourself on the trip – what’s the equivalent self-care you can do for yourself at home? Maybe taking an hour at 11AM to read a book in the sun or paint your nails?
I’m not saying do this every day and neglect your work responsibilities but just once in a while, plan something you can look forward to and that feels totally indulgent. Plan something in a random time that can take your mind to a different place and recover from the daily grind. I can guarantee you that you will feel more energised and be more productive with these mini gaps as long as you allow yourself to enjoy them free of guilt.
Embrace doing things differently
“Thinking less and becoming more relaxed is, surprisingly, enough to positively change things” – Tim Grimes
On a holiday, the greatest joy for me is the lack of routine and the way a day can unfold in its own organic way. I’m not constantly checking the time and rushing to go from one activity to the next but rather experience a lightness and ease to the days.
The mind-set on a holiday is that ‘I am allowed to relax, I am allowed to drop the incessant anxiety – this is the place that gives me the permission to do that’.
Now think when you have returned home from the trip and someone asks you how it went, the typical reply is ‘I’ve already forgotten about it, it feels like it was ages ago’. You get back straight into the react and rush mode; that gentleness and ease has dissipated from your system and is a distant memory.
What about changing the mind-set of waiting for something to give you permission to unwind and try to cultivate that way of being now? What if instead of resenting the circumstances that Covid has brought you, find a way to embrace it? I am not talking from a financial point of view and by no means am I minimising any hardships it may have brought to you. Things are different now whether you like it or not so can you reframe how you see your new circumstances?
Prior to the lockdown, I was craving a more gentle unfolding of my mornings. I was so focused on how this should look and present itself that I missed the gift in front of me because I was focusing on all the new challenges I had to deal with.
Truthfully, it took me about 13 weeks in lockdown to eventually realise what I had and appreciate it. I have adopted this new mind-set by appreciating the fact that my morning can unfold in a less frenetic way. I am waking up just before 5AM and using the first hour of my day for self-care with zero guilt. Prior to lockdown, I was in the gym at 5AM and rushing to be ready to get into the car by 7AM – I mastered the art of getting ready in 15 minutes to do this but it was always go, go, go!
My mornings are my sacred time and the only hour that really feels like it belongs to me in a day. Not every morning is perfect and sometimes the kids decide to wake up at 5AM. Instead of getting flustered and resentful, I have learnt to allow the mornings to unfold in its own way and let go of trying to control of every second. Previously I would resist it and get so flustered about ‘losing’ my time that I would get myself into a state and trigger a migraine. I was in a headspace of time scarcity which really did not serve me or anyone else at home.
If I’ve learnt anything from Covid-19, it’s that you cannot plan and that you have zero control over external factors. Well you can plan but life may have other plans for you instead. I have a choice to either resist life’s plan or accept it and move into flow with it.
The irony is I have learnt to relax more at home during lockdown than I would have in 6 days abroad. It’s easy to shift your mind-set in a new environment when you know it is temporary but the behaviour does no become entrenched. When the environment is permanent, you have no choice but to adapt to it and find a way to make it work.
Choose your words
“Words are powerful – and your mind is listening.” Marisa Peer
I am incredibly deliberate with my time and some weeks are way more hectic than others but I have made a conscious decision to operate with less intensity and unnecessary anxiety. In order to emulate this holiday mind-set from my desk, I have become more aware of the words I use. When I feel myself getting tense, I remind myself, there is more than enough time to complete what I need to because I have planned my week before I am in it and I know exactly whats gaps are available to me .I am also mindful of dropping words from my vocabulary like ‘rush, hurry, quickly’. You know what I’m talking about – ‘I’m just going to quickly check my mails, I’m going to hurry and get some lunch before the next meeting’. I kept reinforcing a message of time scarcity through my words and the picture I was painting in my mind was not one of ease.
It’s a work in progress and I still have my migraine days where I get triggered but it’s a reminder to slow down, take a deep breath and choose a better state to operate from.
Gratitude is a superpower
“Happiness has to do with your mind-set, not with outside circumstance.” ― Steve Maraboli
On the days where I find myself slipping into resentment or disappointment about not being able to get away or resist our reality, I use gratitude to ground me. The daily act of practicing gratitude and appreciating being healthy and safe completely outweighs the frustration of the current circumstances. I am so content exactly where I am and actually don’t want to be anywhere else even if given the choice. Gratitude for what I have every day – my health and being with my family – keeps me focused on what I can appreciate and not focus on what is missing or where I could be.
When you find yourself moving into a tense and anxious state, press the mental pause button and don’t go down the rabbit hole of negativity. It’s not about always being positive, this is not realistic. Allow the feelings to come up, identify them and then let them go. Susan David, an incredible speaker on emotional agility, say:
‘Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life’.
On the days where you feel out of sorts, use gratitude to find that meaning.
“Wherever You Go, There You Are” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Take a minute and visualise yourself at a beautiful holiday destination, the one that’s been on the bucket list for ages. See it in high definition and imagine how you would be feeling if you were really there. Now bring that mind-set back into your reality and ask yourself what can you do to cultivate a different way of being now?
Perhaps stop checking your phone so often and logging into your emails every 15 minutes. Break the habit of taking your phone into every room you go to including the bathroom!
Become aware of the words you are using – ‘this is a nightmare, it’s too much for me, hurry, quickly…’ These are the commands you are giving your mind. Change the code and incorporate better words that sub-consciously change your way of operating. Drop the ‘should be’ mental chatter and remember that the moment you are in right now is the perfect one.
If lockdown ended tomorrow and you could be at your holiday destination next week, would you really enjoy it? Or would you arrive and feel anxious about what you are not doing, the work that will be waiting for you and addicted to your phone incessantly checking for emails every 10 minutes in case you miss something urgent?
Don’t wait for lockdown to end to give yourself permission to operate from a different place than stress and overwhelm. One of my favourite quotes is by Jon Kabat-Zinn who said ‘Wherever you go, there you are’. If you are tense and anxious now, who are you taking with you on the trip?
Practice gratitude and contentment today and stop pushing out your happiness to ‘someday’ when this is all over.
Covid-19 has shone on a light on how little we can control the outside world but you have a choice every day, in fact micro choices throughout the day, to control your inner world. Be kind to yourself, choose yourself and start making some serious changes now so that when the big day comes and you can go on that trip, you will actually bring the version of yourself who will enjoy it.
Here’s to living fully now,
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