If you get tired, learn to rest, not quit” – Banksy

I am at Level 5 exhaustion this week.  As I write this, I am grateful that physical exertion is not a prerequisite for my work.  Yet, writing this week’s post is taking much longer than usual.  There is a fog in my mind and a general sense of something heavier going on.  

This is my tell-tell sign that I am stressed and approaching burnout.  Another sign for me is how my body shows me the manifestation of stress on me.

This week, a doctor handed me a prescription for an eye infection.  I told him it was my second in six weeks. He told me he was seeing a lot of people present with aches, pains, mouth ulcers, and insomnia in recent weeks.  He puts it down to being six months into an unrelenting pandemic.  Along with the prescription, he told me to get outside in the fresh air and leave my phone at home.

With all my mindfulness talk, practice, and training, why now, was it so hard, to listen to what my body is telling me?

Reflecting on recent weeks, I was on autopilot for a lot of it.  I was up and working but as I had so many tasks to complete, I was working without a full intention of what I was doing.

In the 1960s the psychiatrist Aaron Beck developed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The premise of CBT is to watch your thoughts. Do you give too much attention to things that don’t need it? Do you have a tendency to catastrophise situations? Do you overthink and fall down a loop of possible outcomes? Do you exclude evidence of another perspective?
 
These selective processes can lead to mental health problems, which is why I love CBT. And I love mindfulness because it helps me keep on top of these selective processes.  So why did I ignore them?  

I love CBT and I love mindfulness because it helps me keep on top of these selective processes.  So why did I ignore them?


Automatic Pilot


In August, a lot of new opportunities came my way.  I felt delighted that work was paying off and things were coming together.  I developed a new routine where I was at my desk, following tasks, and getting through my day.  But over the weeks, the monotony of my routine put me on automatic pilot.  

Automatic pilot lets us carry out everyday tasks without having to think about them.  Brushing our teeth, tying our laces, checking emails – all automatic pilot.  I had become so regimented in my routine.  How I approached tasks felt mandatory, curiosity was gone. 

I even parked an hour into my daily schedule to read. 

I took the joy out of reading when I turned reading into a task. I lost the sensory explosion reading gives me.

To be productive, I do need a routine. The new one I set myself was quite restrictive. I saw that I was repeating old paterns of behavious. I was making myself climb a mountain to feel I had achieved something. Look at me, I climbed this mountain to do this, do you think I am great? I felt that reward only came from hard work. And there is a difference between working hard and seeing the work as hard. It’s a different mindset, a fixed mindset, and built on self-flagellation.

Armed with my tablets and my septic eye, I took the day off work. Through one eye, I read a book a friend gave me at the start of the year (Such a Fun Age – I recommend it) and I read it in one go.
 
 Breaking only for my dinner.  Music played in the background and my phone stayed outside the room.  At the end of the day, I had that great inner comfort of nourishment.  
Deep down, every aspect of me knew I had taken care of myself by resting.

 

Multitasking

For many of us, multitasking is a badge of honour. Being busy is a hill we assume we’d be happy to die on. But in reality, we’re not. But we are being conditioned to believe that unless there is some struggle, then it won’t come to you. But what is this IT?
 
According to research, multitasking is a myth! What we’re really doing is rapid task-switching. And when we do this, our attention isn’t focussed on any one thing. This is what I was doing.  Rather than enjoy the process of doing one job, I was switching back and forth to others.  
 
At the end of the week, everything was complete. But I had completed it in such a frantic way that I felt I could have done more, done it better.
As I work and design my freelance career, I want to balance my mental, physical and spiritual sides. All I seemed to be doing was striving to tick something off a list of tasks, not nurture the lifestyle I wanted.


What now?

I have a lot to work on this week.  I have meetings in different time zones and I have a mid-week deadline.  I also have administrative tasks to complete.  I can look at this in two ways.

1 – it is a struggle, I have a mountain to climb and once I get there, I’ll have even more to do

2 – walk the flat road and take it easy, you’ll be fine

Neil Gaiman, in conversation with Tim Ferris, spoke about his writing technique.  He sits at the desk and gives himself permission to do one of two things – nothing or write.

He can stare into space, daydream to his heart’s content, or sit there.  But he isn’t allowed to do anything else.  By not doing anything, that loses its charm and after five minutes, or so, he begins to write.
This mindset is one I’m adapting to.  As I write this, hundreds of crows are making their way home to a rookery close to where I live.  Because it is a stormy day, they are letting themselves get caught in the gales and glide with them.  I want that freedom, to enjoy the gales and lean into them and have fun.  I want my life to be fun, not steeped in seriousness.  

I have loosened my routine, relinquished some of my benchmarks of good work.  I have a tendency to try and control situations and this is ineffective beyond measure.

I am giving myself permission to rest and reset.  This is not laziness or failure.  This is productive and valuable.

I enjoy writing this newsletter.  I love how words can reach and touch people in ways that are individual to them.  For October, I promise myself to be here and to enjoy it.  I’m done with choosing the hard path when the simple one is at hand.

We are human beings.  Yet somewhere along the way, a lot of us become human doings, living from a place of work, work, work, do, do, do.  It’s time to recognise that and try to just be here for yourself.

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