What do you focus on when you’ve come to the end of a sustained period of effort? How do you appreciate the freedom while refocusing on the next important things?
This weekend, I am going to drop trying and add small joys.
But first, a brief catch-up:
I’ve been unintentionally absent for a few weeks as I’ve focused on studying for my final exam, looking for some new employment, dealing with an inexplicably crap period of sleep and coping with an unexpected wave of grief over the loss of my mum last year. While I’m truly trying to commit to this project, I also recognise that is of my own devising with my own rules and therefore other things can and should be more important than making sure I write two thoughtful entries a week here.
I did feel that this period has perhaps been when I would have most benefitted from some extra motivation to practise some positive behaviours, but I did manage to find one or two that I have focused on for DO/AO that really did see me through. The most significant was dropping those leisurely morning procrastinations and starting in on the important things. This really helped me get kick-started a number of times on my tasks. Probably the next most helpful was merely remembering to fuel my ego. When there are many important tasks to be done (especially exam revision) and not a lot of sleep to get me going, it’s far too easy for me to focus on how much I could have done but didn’t. In fact, although there were days when there was perhaps time (if not energy) to do more, I managed to scrounge enough momentum to do at least some every single day, and some days quite a lot once I got started. This is something I’ve been struggling with all year and to be able to maintain a consistent level of study and getting-other-thingies-done is a real achievement for me and I made a concerted effort to praise myself for that and make that pride and positivity internal.
So, with my final exam for the year over, I now turn my attention to making sure I enjoy my freedom from an ongoing stress without losing any focus on the next things I have to do (finding some extra work before Christmas and Christmas rehearsals for multiple choirs).
I am going to drop trying. No, no, I’m not giving up on everything and lying around like a useless blob all weekend! I’m going to stop trying to be so many things and to chase after imaginary standards and expectations. For instance, my old choir is having a Christmas reunion concert and our first rehearsal is tomorrow. While I have always felt very accepted in this group, I’m still often aware that many others are trendier and more talented and I find myself worrying about what I’m wearing or becoming wearied by striving not to muck up my part. For me, music and singing is something that is part of my soul. I have a constant stream of music playing in my head (I literally cannot turn it off) and music affects me on such a basic level thatit can soothe me or lift me like nothing else. However, often I find that I’m spending so much time trying at choir that I become tired and discouraged and I lose my enjoyment. Rather than being brilliant and witty and fashionable and perfect, I would just like to be calm, to do what I can and be who I am and not worry about failing or being less than others.
Logically, I can see that choir is one of the places where I am most liked and most influential and most appreciated, therefore I know that these ideas of inferiority are insecurities of my own devising and not brought about by any real behaviour from others. (In CBT terms, if I examined my thoughts I would find there is not real evidence to support them.) In the same way, I can easily spend a weekend constantly telling myself that I should be someone who is very active, someone who gets lots of chores done, someone who should be doing this or that. This is not who I am and not what I enjoy and – for once – I really do have a weekend with nothing I have to do, so I need to stop the trying. Even now, there’s a part of my brain thinking “Now I am free of study I should maybe spend some time reading that book on art history I’ve had on my shelf for ages…” I’m still trying to be how I think I should be. It’s not that it’s bad to have goals to aim for, but I want to learn to stop constantly – and I mean constantly – pressuring myself to be different from how I am inclined to be.
In a similar way, I would like to add small joys. I was reading a post on self-approval from Tiny Buddha where the author mentioned no longer minding very much if she went out in mismatched clothes. I am not going to strive to turn into someone who is completely ambivalent to others’ opinions in the space of weekend. What I drew from this was actually the idea that I sometimes get so caught up in how I think people might judge me, or so caught up in doing what I feel I should that I forget to please myself. I don’t mean that I’m always doing things I dislike, but I often forget to insert that extra spark of joy into my life. I forget to do things because they please me rather than because they are functional or won’t draw attention to me. I forget to use the sparkly drinking straw, to wear the quirky socks, to sing at the top of my voice, to skip down the hallway, to smile at people just because they’re wonderfully nice and want them to know. I get too caught up in self-monitoring – am I talking too much, am I not talking enough, is my hair messy, am I performing well enough? I don’t know what these small joys will be, but I want to listen to that inner voice that says “Make cupcakes!” or “Tell that person I like their clothes!” or “Wear a skirt for change!” or “Make silly faces at my friends until they laugh!” or even just “Stop the car and look at the view for a moment.” I want to follow those harmless impulses without bothering about all the reasons to inhibit them.
Not that I would be at all unhappy if there were also large joys in my weekend!
(* I have decided not to count the weeks when I haven’t been actively maintaining this.)