Should you finally write that novel while you're staying at home or should you cut yourself some slack and take it easy?
Some productivity gurus seem to encourage us to use this time to reach all those goals we never had time for, while others say this is a tough situation and we should take it slow for a while.
That's a false choice and a dangerous trap...
The first choice is problematic if it discourages you from practicing sufficient self compassion, an attitude that few in our society have mastered. Without self compassion, reaching for major goals during a difficult time is a workaholic response that is usually unsustainable. Sooner or later we burn out and our loved ones pay the price until we do.
The second choice invites us to use the pandemic as an excuse to be less than our best and there's a hidden danger to that. For example, I'm hearing from people who say they're having trouble getting out of bed, or off the sofa, and are engaging in old bad habits, like overeating and binge watching TV they don't even like. Those are symptoms that, over time, can be deadly, and I'm not just talking about becoming unfit or overweight.
When we give up on what gets us out of bed, even for a while, we're telling our bodies that we are no longer needed. When that happens, our bodies tend to shut down and age. Sometimes, people begin the process of dying when they no longer have a purpose. We've all heard those stories of elderly couples who die within days of each other. That is, perhaps, a dramatic example.
The psychologist, Jim Loehr, who specializes in helping people optimize their energy, has a theory. He says shutting down and dying, when we no longer have a purpose, has adaptive value for our species. Because it frees up resources, like food, for those that do have a purpose.
I remember hearing a story from psychologist, Don Beck, who teaches Spiral Dynamics, about an indigenous family in the Canadian arctic. They had too little food to survive the winter, so the grandparents volunteered to commit a traditional sacrifice. The grandparents climbed onto an ice flow and the family pushed them out to sea...
They sacrificed themselves to free up resources for their families in one last act of purpose.
I'm guessing that your situation does not require you to die for the survival of your family. But you do need a sense of purpose to survive the pandemic. You can can reach goals that matter. You can grow and transcend. But you need a little extra self compassion when the new abnormal gets overwhelming.
I'm teaching a free course on how to thrive in the pandemic in which I share numerous positive psychology and neuroscience tools and practices. One of the tools that participants have found most impactful is an act of self compassion.
Here it is. Take your hand and place it on your cheek (make sure you've washed your hand, of course.) Then tell yourself, "I understand. It's okay. I forgive you. Everything will be all right."
One participant cried when she did this.
Try it. If it touches you deeply, you probably need to do it regularly.
Your short-term purpose may have changed temporarily. But you can replace it with something meaningful, right now. Maybe even complete that novel you've always wanted to write. And it may be possible to work toward your long-term vision if you're willing to be flexible and creative. I'm offering a taste of this in the free course.
But that sense of laziness, of slacking off and becoming one with the sofa, could slowly be killing you.
Don't make this an either/or choice. Do pursue important goals. Do practice self compassion, as needed. Do thrive despite the pandemic and help create a better world.
There are two classes left in the free Fully Alive course. Sign up below to attend.