Some years back, I wrote a little list for myself of “things I really should do but don’t”. My aim was to make some kind of headway with these things, perhaps by focusing on them one at a time until I succeeded in moulding my life into what I thought it should be.
Later, I wrote an article about this. I had realised a few things: many or most of the “things I should do but don’t” were actually not so good for me as I had thought. For instance, I once thought that taking cold showers would do me good. I had noticed that after some cold showers I feel energised and kind of euphoric, and thought that if I could make it a routine, my life would improve.
After writing that down and seeing it staring at me from the screen of my computer, I tried making a serious effort to make it part of my life. Soon, though, I realised that cold showers were rarely as good as I had thought. I tended to fall into a funk after having one, stripped of energy because of my body’s unusual propensity for hypothermia. So I dropped cold showers.
My interpretation now is that the difference between what I thought I should do and what I did do had been an excuse to berate myself, an exercise in self hatred. In some way, it was an internalisation of the way I had been parented: I was taught I had to be a certain way which my parents dictated, and that if I didn’t do that I would be punished. So I learnt to have ideas about how I was supposed to be and to punish myself if I fell short.
When I wrote my article about that I was starting to get some ideas in that direction but I didn’t see the full picture yet. I ended my article with a new list of “things I should do”, which was shorter and more practical, but still existed.
Recently, while backing up my data, I stumbled across this list, and it made me smile. Nowadays, I simply wouldn’t think of having such a list.
The reason for this is simple: I seem to understand or intuit that if I’m not doing something at the moment, there’s a reason.
Much of the time it’s simply because I don’t have the time or energy. Or rather: the thing in question is not a priority for my time and energy.
I have accepted that I have generally less energy than the average person (or less willingness to overwork myself, I’m not sure which) and due to emotional overload often experience states on the spectrum of depression. Sometimes I find that I don’t have enough energy for full self care in a given moment, and have to prioritise simple things like making myself some healthy food or doing important tasks that I dread. When I’m in such a state, doing regular yoga makes no sense. And the thing is, I am okay with that! I don’t hate myself, beat myself up, or punish myself for it. It’s simply the way it is, and I accept that.
When I’m in a state where I have a bit more energy, I might consider doing yoga. But still, there are less flashy forms of self care that are nonetheless extremely valuable, which I might prioritise over yoga. Learning German, for instance, is something that immensely affects my daily comfort and ability to get things done. (I live in Germany). If skipping yoga now means I reach German mastery six months earlier, I think I’ll take that payoff.
When it’s not about prioritising my time and energy, the reason I don’t do something I might think I “should” do might mean that it’s not actually good for me after all, such as with cold showers. If I struggle against myself without listening to what my inner voices have to say, then I won’t realise that there’s an actual reason I don’t feel motivated to do these things.
Sometimes, too, there may be reasons I’m not doing something which could be resolved. For instance, I’m pretty sure regular exercise will do me good. However, I’m now pretty sure that putting myself through pain is not a good way to make that happen. For one thing, if I associate exercise with pain, I just won’t want to do it. For another thing, I trust my body and if it sends pain signals, I trust that there is something there I’m doing wrong.
So I find that running is out. I’m fat, 105 kilos/231 pounds, which means that running for me is equivalent to a thin person running while carrying another thin person on her back. I need a gentler start to fitness than that.
Swimming would be the obvious choice for me as buoyancy counters most of the effect of my weight, and I have a history with swimming, besides. And actually, I started regularly swimming in January.
I had previously struggled with swimming because of my tendency to hypothermia (if my hair is slightly wet when I go outside, I’ll start to feel horribly drained). This time I decided to take all possible precautions against hypothermia, and swimming started to work for me.
It was looking good, and I was starting to get that endorphin-craving that helps to fuel the motivation to exercise, but then I was hit by a few weeks of depression. During that time I had little energy to swim, and my head was so full of dark thoughts that doing something as distraction-free as swimming would have made me feel awful. Basically, I was thrown out of my groove.
Then, I started my new job, and needed to dedicate a lot of energy to it. So I didn’t get back into my swimming groove. And here’s the thing. I’m okay with that. I see that there are reasons why I don’t swim at the moment, and I don’t make it about me being lazy or wrong or whatever.
I’ve recently started thinking about why I don’t clean my living spaces as much as I’d like. I came to the conclusion that I had always associated cleaning with painful feelings, and I should try to develop new ways of seeing cleaning which would allow me to enjoy the process. I think this is possible to do, but it’s still a work in progress.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t try to willpower-myself into more cleaning. I didn’t beat myself up about not cleaning. In the past, I’ve seen such strategies pretty much never working, and only serving as a means by which I can be cruel to myself.
I now usually trust my mind-body-spirit when I feel a block towards doing something. In fact, I generally don’t feel a huge block, because I simply don’t try to push myself so hard in that direction in the first place. I’m more in tune with what my mind-body-spirit is saying, and what it desires is also what I desire. I mean, mind-body-spirit is what I am, after all.
I’m the water and not the rock. And this actually works out. I get stuff done. And I avoid the pain of beating myself up in the process. Sounds like a win to me.