This week I am going to drop my to-do list and add optimism.
Last week I found it hard to relax because I put too much pressure on myself to be doing things even when I didn’t need to be.
I took this year off uni – and purposely did not try to find a full-time teaching job – because I need a calmer year. I need a year where I can relax in my free time because I don’t have study or teaching preparation. For most of my life since adolescence I have had one of those responsibilities. They are the kind of jobs that are never finished because I can always do more. I don’t intend to be slack this year, but I’ve been looking forward to being deliciously free from responsibility and guilt during my non-working hours.
As I’ve had more energy and more study-free time, I’ve been trying to build productive habits. I’ve been trying to do a little bit of housework each day (trying!), to take on tasks despite my fear of failure, and to get some chores done in the morning so I know I have achieved something each day. I have worked very hard so far this year to develop better habits of organisation and productivity. I don’t like feeling stressed because I have put off chores or tasks that need doing, but I am naturally good at procrastinating!
The problem is that I have been focusing so much on trying to improve my getting-things-done habits that I feel guilty for time taken out to relax. I don’t feel that I deserve free time doing aimless, unconstructive nothings. This week, I am going to try to get rid of the feeling that I have to always do things. Apart from necessities, or tasks I want to do, I am going to wipe my to-do list clean for the week. I think I need to realise that there will never be an end to life’s to-do list. Unless we completely stagnate, there is never a time when we can sit back and say that we have achieved everything we need to at that point and have absolutely nothing to do for a week until the another highly-manageable task is added to the list. Life is not like that at all!
This week will not be about doing nothing at all. I have work and there will be necessary chores such as clothes washing and cooking dinner. This week will be about not feeling that I have to do anything extra. This week will be about not feeling that I have to be constantly earning my free time, as if it is shameful to have free time unless I have done a dozen incredible and effortful things that day.
I am also going to add optimism.
While not outwardly negative, I have developed an internal habit of thinking the worst so that I can anticipate it, plan for it and guard against it. I do often enjoy things, but I have forgotten how to look forward to things. I have been working on accepting things not going perfectly and feeling that this is not anything disastrous. This week, I would like to try going one step further and entertain the thought that things will go well. I would like to look forward to things like work, rather than prepare for the worst. I would like to spend more time enjoying things and less time worrying about what will happen next.
One key aspect of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is the examination of common problematic thoughts for evidence that supports them. The idea is that we often have a skewed or exaggerated perspective of things, but if we rationally examine our thoughts we can recognise when we have beliefs that are not supported by evidence. My pessimistic forethoughts mean that I find it hard to believe that thing will go well. It also means that I believe I will be unable to cope with anything imperfect unless I have prepared myself for it. In reality, truly disastrous events are rare out of all the events that occur. In reality, less-than-perfect events rarely seriously throw me or cause me distress. It is at least equally likely – and probably far more likely – that things will go well, that even the unexpected will be pleasant. I may as well spend my time looking forward to that rather than fretting.
I’m not expecting this to be an easy thing to do. A lot of my self-doubting habits are deeply ingrained. However, this is the Year of Sunshine and Birdies Singing, for my own heart and mind as well as for what I give to the world. I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to try, and I just have to optimistically believe that I can try!