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A common mistake we make as kids is seeing life as two-dimensional. No one can blame us for it — after all, our minds are still developing — but at every turn in a typical American childhood we are encouraged to see in black and white. This dichotomy imbues itself into everything we perceive, good and bad, old and new, student and teacher. This pattern of thought follows us into young adulthood and causes a lot if confusion and often times dissatisfaction. A monochromatic understanding of the world will without a doubt stifle the joy of color we can find in each day in our life. Let’s dissect how we operate now and see how we can frame the life we want to live.  

The foundations of many of our lives come in a series of stages and routines. We start our days with breakfast and have nap time and recess, which begets study halls and sports practice, and so on and so forth as we grow older. The problem is, we as people are more than students. Following these rigid checkpoints can prove to be dysfunctional as we become more nuanced and multifaceted as people.

When I began my first semester in college I had more free time than class time, but I structured my day around my classes as I had done my whole life. I woke up an hour before class and did all my homework after 7:30 p.m. I never took naps and I stayed up late, because going to sleep at 1 a.m. for a 10 a.m. class still left me with nine hours of sleep. I felt that I was checking all the boxes of what a college student looked like, but I was not happy.

To live a vibrant and healthful life each part of you needs to be given time to exist.

When structuring your day, it helps to think about each of your many parts as plants. As an aspiring plant mother, botanical metaphors have been really resonating with me. So here we go. Some of the plants in my life garden have the labels of artist, academic, daughter, sister, and friend. To have a lush and vibrant garden (i.e. a vibrant and healthful life) each plant (part of you) needs to be properly watered (given time and care). This requires a shift in perspective. Instead of organizing your day around the health of one plant, prioritize the whole garden.  

Now let’s see this metaphor in practice. When my focus was solely on my academic plant, my hour before class alarm held no space for a daily mindfulness and yoga practice. I had wanted to be a more consistent meditator for years but I would run out of time with my previous schedule. I would have a shorter meditation or no meditation at all, leaving me dissatisfied or disappointed. Even small joys like a cup of tea or reading time began to feel like distractions to the goal of getting ready for class. Here comes the shift. I was unhappy because I was overwatering my student plant, under-watering my meditator plant and wondering why my garden was not thriving. When I began to view  myself as the subject of my day, I woke up earlier and around the same time daily. This left two to three hours before my first class. Now as I begin my academic day, I had given myself the satisfaction of completing a task, fulfilling one of my desires and having mentally prepared myself for the day. 

Envision how you want to live. How does it feel, most importantly, what will it take?

This simple step requires a lot of background work. I began planning to do homework in the gaps of my day. I shifted studying time earlier in the day, which was an adjustment, so I could sleep earlier and wake up readily. Knowing that I had enough time at night to do my work allowed me to feel easeful enough to attend club meetings during the week.

Now, early mornings may not be what work for you, and I encourage you to first figure out what you want. This example is only a template. Write down how you feel you live now and some concrete examples of what would build the life you want. These are the seeds of your garden. As with any plant, it may not be in perfect health everyday it exists. We can all forget to waters here and there and still keep it alive; the goal is not perfection. The goal of keeping a vibrant garden is health and overall satisfaction. So envision how you want to live. How does it feel and most importantly, what will it take? Then plan for it and remember to prize who you are over what your title is.

More Thrive Global on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis