Community//

What are you looking forward to?

Why having nothing to look forward to is bad for productivity and mental health. And what to do about it.

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Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

One of the things that’s been so hard about this COVID period is the lack of things to look forward to. When we feel as though we have nothing to look forward to, everything feels the same. The daily monotony weighs on us.

All the stuff we used to look forward to — dinner out with friends, the beach vacation, date night — we don’t have those things anymore.

Looking forward to things used to provide a driving force. We used to say things like “I can’t wait until…”. And then we’d power through the hard stuff to get to the good stuff.

“Just two more weeks of work to get through before I’m on the beach with a margarita…”

“Just 2 more hours of work and I’ll be out to dinner with my best friend…”

Looking forward helps us to break up the monotony. When we look forward we feel forward motion. We feel optimistic. In fact, studies have shown that we often experience more pleasure anticipating an event than in remembering the actual event.

But we’ve stopped saying “I’m looking forward to”. Because we’ve learned the hard way that there’s no certainty. That dates shift.

Remember back in March when we thought we’d be at home for a few weeks? The dates kept being pushed out until, eventually, no timelines were given. We don’t give ourselves false hope anymore because we’ve learned it’s too painful.

NYC public schools opened last week, after months of shifting start dates, to be shut down within just a few days in many zip codes.

We’ve had to get used to the not knowing and the constant change and it’s left us a bit scarred.

We are all both the kid asking, over and over, in the back seat of the car “Are we there yet?” and the parent saying “We’ll get there when we get there.”

But we can adjust our definition of “looking forward”.

After all, we are becoming masters of the pivot. And we can use our newfound skills here too. So, let’s shift from looking forward in an abstract way, to when this will all be over (because who knows?), to a more concrete, realistic and actionable method.

No, you don’t know when your next vacation will be. But, you can make a conscious effort to ensure you’ve still got stuff to look forward to, even if it’s all in your house.

Here are some of the things that I look forward too. And I hope these examples can help you to come up with a list of things in your life that you can reframe as “something to look forward to” or even start something new:

  • Evenings – I choose a stopping time for work each day. After that, my time is for me and my family. It’s something to look forward to daily.
  • Weekends – I look forward to that moment when I set my “out of office” reply to let everyone know I’m not checking email on the weekend and will get back to them next week.
  • Family movie night – We make a big deal of it. The kids get mocktails and we get cocktails. We have fun snacks that we don’t eat at any other time (like chips).
  • Family “show” night – You know, where we watch TV together instead of a movie 🙂 Right now, we’re watching Community (a rewatch for us, and new to the kids).
  • Regular virtual happy hours with assorted groups (family of origin, cousins, college friends, former work colleagues)
  • Virtual book clubs – I’ve got two of them. And we’re having them even more frequently now.
  • Favorite podcasts – For whatever reason, all my favorites have new episodes on Thursdays; I wake up Thursdays excited to download them.

Looking forward can help us to maintain productivity and balance.

If you find yourself thinking “what difference does it make if I do this project right now, I can always work on it later tonight” then you might find yourself in a situation where you are both procrastinating AND working all the time.

If you have something to look forward to, you’ll put in the work now, so you can enjoy yourself later without guilt.

It’ll stop feeling like one, big slog. And you’ll be making progress. It’s a virtuous cycle.

So, what are you looking forward to this week?

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