Do you feel like it’s hard to make plans? You’re not alone. Many of us feel more powerless over our lives than we did before the global Coronavirus pandemic. In September, the New York Times published an article entitled, How to Cope When Everything Keeps Changing, which offered tips to help people restore their sense of agency during these uncertain times. One of the suggestions is to “take action, no matter how small.”
“The key is to start almost stupidly small…Pick something that is so easy and so certain to be accomplished that it’s almost comical.”– NICK TASLER
Small steps can certainly work. They aided me greatly in recovering from burnout and grief earlier this year. And, they’ve helped me as I’ve hesitantly welcomed two adult children back home due to the pandemic.
But, the best small step I took this year was grounding myself in the rhythms of the natural world. I know this sounds overly simplistic. But paying attention to the most fundamental ones – daytime, nighttime and the seasons – can help reset your primary human rhythms: waking, eating and sleeping.
The Power of Rhythm
I first became aware of the power of rhythms when I had newborns. Juggling new motherhood and work, I needed to develop my children’s sleep and wake cycles – their circadian rhythms.
As my babies grew to be busy toddlers, I sought to foster an active household that had some structure and a cadence without being overly prescribed. And, for this I turned to the seasons.
Seasons offer magical predictability: leaves fall, fruit ripens, new buds transform into flowers. As such, even today – despite modern conveniences – if we tune into the seasons, it’s easy to build a life that adapts to its rhythms.
So, with the seasons as the backdrop, we quickly formed weekly and daily rhythms which grounded our lives, activities and our meals: leaves, harvest, pumpkins and apple picking in the autumn. Snowflakes, winter greens, gathering wood and indoor forts in the winter. Spring flowers, seedlings, wellies, raincoats and chrysalises in the spring. Sunflowers, garden bounty, s’mores and fireflies in the summer.
Parts of our day were active, others less active or quiet. Predictable patterns of play and rest helped to avoid overstimulation and foster our creativity.
My children quickly learned what each day or week might bring, and, therefore, felt some control over their young lives (which is very helpful with two and three-year-olds!).
Doesn’t it sound so idyllic when we talk about the lives we try to create for our children? These beings that we aim to nurture with joy, love, learning, security and success.
But what about us – the adults? Why is it that we don’t always remember to care for ourselves in the same way?
Around the world, schools, workplaces and life, with all of its rules, have moved us away from natural rhythms. Modern conveniences allow us to maximise our time and expand our days. Consequently, most of us regularly forget to pace ourselves.
Now we face a pandemic that’s overstayed its visit. It has wrenched most of us from our offices, schools, churches, friends, demolishing well-established life routines in the process.
The good news is that the rhythms of nature mostly stand firm, even when our view of them is blurred. Like a steady friend, they’re right there waiting to help us regain some semblance of agency over our lives.
But how? As Tasler says, start “stupidly small.” Get back to basics.
This starts with healthy routines around waking, eating and sleeping. Arrange your days so that you can alternate between periods of activity, rest and quiet. This rule goes for weekdays and weekends.
- At work, replace twelve-hour days of back-to-back calls with smaller chunks of time that let you alternate between meetings and doing work.
- Put a 15-minute buffer in between each session; a 30 minutes break for lunch (yes, really!) and take a step outside – even if just for a brief walk.
- Adopt a workday that lasts no more than eight consecutive hours.
- Importantly, disconnect from technology for parts of the day; Zoom will still be there when you get back.
Lastly, punctuate the workday with an activity that brings you so much joy you don’t to continue working, like exercise, listening to music, taking a lesson, or, my favourite spending time with loved ones over an aperitivo.
Establishing order from chaos supports brain functioning and enables us to think. And joy, well, life just isn’t the same without it.
So, think of this as a time to remove all but the essential activities from your life. Keep only the ones you must do, the ones that bring you joy, and those that pay the highest dividends in your relationship with yourself and others.
Try some of these simple activities to connect to the seasons: picnics; weekly trips to the nearest farmer’s market for seasonal goods; or games or a sport that you loved as a child.
Transform Everyday Activities into Mindful Moments
Of course, we all have things we just need to do outside of work – cooking, laundry, food shopping, etc.. Sometimes these activities drain our energy. But, what if they could generate joy and peace? I call this, “transforming everyday activities into mindful moments.”
Instead of being on autopilot, slow yourself down throughout the day, anywhere from 1-5 minutes, being present while engaging in an otherwise routine activity. That brief pause will help you reset and refresh your energy.
What’s worked for me is simplifying these types of jobs and not piling too many of them into a single day. I cook on the grill when the weather is nice, so I don’t dirty the kitchen.
I’ve committed to easy weekday meal prep and clean-up and adapted a cleaning house routine that’s paced and way less fussy than in the past.
Individually, these activities may seem “stupidly small,” but they are part of a bigger picture.
Daily and weekly practices form the rhythm of your life; if you’re intentional, that rhythm will restore your sense of agency and further ground you.
So, pepper your life with daily moments that you intentionally choose, look forward to, and in which you are fully present; it’s a game-changer for your well-being.– Janine Mathó, @simply_eau_de_vie
Note: This post was originally featured on Simply Eau-de-Vie at www.simplyeaudevie.com. Simply Eau-de-Vie is a blog which offers tips for achieving well-being through a life made simple. Check it out!