“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…Including you.” –Anne Lamott
If you asked me what fuels my soul and brings me to my happy place – it’s travel. It isn’t just about arriving at the destination but everything that comes before it. The planning, the research and getting immersed in the culture. In the beginning of 2020, my husband and I had a very exciting trip planned to Italy in June to celebrate a cousin’s wedding in Florence. The kids were going to stay with their granny for the week; any parents reading this – you can understand the added bonus! I was dreaming about cooking courses, writing in Italian coffee shops on cobble stone pavements – you get the picture!
Now fast forward a few months and enter Covid-19 pandemic, clearly this trip is no longer happening. I was disappointed when my bubble was burst but I realized that what I was really upset about was the idea of what the trip would give me. Namely, a fresh head space, the opportunity to relax and let go, experience a new way of being and connection to family.
Technology can solve the connection piece but not the head space piece.
Not being able to go meant I had to reflect on how I could create the same mind-set from home. It was a gift that changed the entire way I have experienced lock down.
The end goal is not always as it appears
“Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.” –Mark Black
On a holiday, the greatest gift for me is the lack of routine and the way a day can unfold in its own organic way. I’m not constantly checking the time and rushing to go from one activity to the next but rather experience a lightness and ease to the days.
The irony is I have learnt to relax more at home during lock down than I would have in 6 days abroad. The mind-set on a holiday is that ‘I am allowed to relax, I am allowed to drop the incessant anxiety – this is the place that gives me the permission to do that’.
Now think when you have returned home from the trip and someone asks you how it went, the typical reply is ‘I’ve already forgotten about it, it feels like it was ages ago’. You get back straight into the react and rush mode; that gentleness and ease has dissipated from your system and is a distant memory.
I couldn’t rely on 6 days to unwind and then spend the duration of lock-down in a head space that doesn’t serve me. I had to figure out how to give myself permission to appreciate the new routine and way of being lock down has brought.
Cultivate a new way of being
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” –Sydney Harris
What about changing that mind-set of waiting for something to give you permission to unwind and try to cultivate that way of being now?
I know it sounds idealistic because you don’t have the same commitments and responsibilities on a holiday – you are meant to do very little and indulge in some fun. But ask yourself – is the current pace I’m operating at serving me and would I benefit to develop the holiday mind-set at home – today?
Truthfully, it took me about 13 weeks in lock down to get to this point but it is a much better place to be. I have adopted this mind-set by appreciating the fact that my morning can unfold in a less frenetic way, I am waking up just before 5AM and using the first hour of my day for self-care with zero guilt. Prior to lock down, I was in the gym at 5AM and rushing to be ready to get into the car by 7AM – I mastered the art of getting ready in 15 minutes to do this but it was always go, go, go!
My mornings are my sacred time and the only hour that really belongs to me in a day. Not every morning is perfect and sometimes the kids decide to wake up at 5AM. Instead of getting flustered and resentful, I have learnt to allow the mornings to unfold in its own way and let go of trying to control of every second. Previously I would resist it and get so flustered about ‘losing’ my time that I would get myself into a state and trigger a migraine. I was in a headspace of time scarcity which really did not serve me or anyone else at home.
If I’ve learnt anything from Covid-19, it’s that you cannot plan and that you have zero control over external factors. Well you can plan but life may have other plans for you instead. I have a choice to either resist life’s plan or accept it and move into flow with it.
Choose your words
“Words are powerful – and your mind is listening.” Marisa Peer
I am incredibly deliberate with my time and some weeks are way more hectic than others but I have made a conscious decision to operate with less intensity and unnecessary anxiety. I try and emulate the holiday mind-set from my desk. When I feel myself getting tense, I remind myself, there is more than enough time to complete what I need to and I am mindful of dropping words from my vocabulary like ‘rush, hurry, quickly’. You know what I’m talking about – ‘I’m just going to quickly check my mails, I’m going to hurry and get some lunch before the next meeting’. I kept reinforcing a message of time scarcity through my words and the picture I was painting in my mind was not one of ease.
It’s a work in progress and I still have my migraine days where I get triggered but it’s a reminder to slow down, take a deep breath and choose a better state to operate from.
Gratitude is a superpower
“Happiness has to do with your mind-set, not with outside circumstance.” ― Steve Maraboli
On the days where I find myself slipping into resentment or disappointment about not being able to get away or resist our reality, I use gratitude to ground me. The daily act of practicing gratitude and appreciating being healthy and safe completely outweighs the frustration of the current circumstances. I am so content exactly where I am and actually don’t want to be anywhere else even if given the choice. Gratitude for what I have every day – my health and being with my family – keeps me focused on what I can appreciate and not focus on what is missing or where I could be.
“Wherever You Go, There You Are” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Take a minute and visualise yourself at a beautiful holiday destination, the one that’s been on the bucket list for ages. See it in high definition and imagine how you would be feeling if you were really there. Now bring that mind-set back into your reality and ask yourself what can you do to cultivate a different way of being now?
Perhaps stop checking your phone so often and logging into your emails every 15 minutes. Break the habit of taking your phone into every room you go to including the bathroom!
Become aware of the words you are using – ‘this is a nightmare, it’s too much for me, hurry, quickly…’ These are the commands you are giving your mind. Change the code and incorporate better words that sub-consciously change your way of operating.
Here’s another question – if lockdown ended tomorrow and you could be at your holiday destination next week, would you really enjoy it? Or would you arrive and feel anxious about what you are not doing, the work that will be waiting for you and addicted to your phone checking for emails every 10 minutes in case you miss something urgent?
Don’t wait for lockdown to end to give yourself permission to operate from a different place than stress and overwhelm. One of my favourite quotes is by Jon Kabat-Zinn who said ‘Wherever you go, there you are’. If you are tense and anxious now, who are you taking with you on the trip?
Practice gratitude and contentment today and stop pushing out your happiness to ‘someday’. That massage you would have allowed yourself on the trip – what’s the equivalent self-care you can do for yourself at home? Maybe taking an hour at 11AM to read a book in the sun or paint your nails?
I’m not saying do this every day and neglect your work responsibilities but just once in a while, plan something you can look forward to. Plan something in a random time that can take your mind to a different place and recover from the daily grind. I can guarantee you that you will feel more energised and be more productive with these mini gaps.
Covid-19 has shone on a light on how little we can control the outside world but you have a choice every day, in fact micro choices throughout the day, to control your inner world. Be kind to yourself, choose yourself and start making some serious changes now so that when the big day comes and you can go on that trip, you will actually bring the version of yourself who will enjoy it.
Here’s to living today,