If your experience of 2020 and early 2021 feels like the above image, you’re not alone! No matter what side of the political fence you’ve embraced it has been a year of loss, constraints, hopelessness, helplessness, hatred, anxieties and extreme division, often among members of the same family, or among friends. Not only have most of us faced differences which have felt toxic and relationship-breaking, but a daily onslaught of information and news about catastrophic events, happening now, or about to unfold. I think there has been a collective experience of trauma in this country, and probably in many places around the world. Covid 19 illnesses and deaths, loss of income, loss of faith in the System, violence, racism, uncertainty.
To that point I’m encouraging everyone to pause and reflect on a few things:
How have you been coping and how well has it served you?
Over-drinking or drugging?
Reviewing the horrors frequently with peers who get it?
Over-eating or over-indulging in comfort foods or sugar?
Targeting your loved ones with rage-outs?
Overspending on Amazon?
Denying anything unusual is happening and proceeding without any cautions or adjustments?
Over-working and sacrificing sleep / self care rituals?
Over-thinking and going to catastrophic conclusions?
In my psychotherapy practice I’ve seen how people’s responses to the trauma either exacerbate or alleviate some of the stress, bring people together for support and meaningful action or tear them apart. Depression and anxiety are off the charts now as people struggle with feelings and thoughts that can become runaway trains in response to such triggering events.
So, instead of going through a long list of more functional coping mechanisms I’m encouraging you all to begin by examining the strategies you’re already using and taking an honest look at how well these strategies are serving you. If they calm and energize you, at what cost to yourself or others? If they provide relief, how momentary or enduring is it? Do your coping mechanisms give you any sense of meaning, agency, or connection to others whom you respect and trust? Are you finding any joy amidst all this madness? Are you protecting your mental and physical health, or has that been one price of how you’ve tried to manage?
All meaningful change begins with Contemplation, so give that it’s due. Then, if you decide to seek out different coping tools you’ll be readier to use them intentionally, creatively and effectively.
I’m sharing this beautifully written blogpost with you from Cindy Giovagnoli about expanding our definitions of “productivity.” This is a subject I find personally and professionally very relevant, and one that I think you may too, so I’m delighted that she gave me permission to reprint it here to share with you, my readers.
Cindy is a gifted photographer, artist, writer, podcaster, website developer, adventurer and nature lover whom I did a podcast with a few years ago about “Noticing.” She’s a funny, honest, wise old soul whose thoughts and ideas can be found at: StayCurious@CindyGiovagnoli.com.
A few days ago, I took Chili Dog over to my favorite local running trails so that he and I could both stretch our legs and breathe in some wild air away from the sounds of cars and people and busy-ness.
It was drizzly and a little raw (Seattle winter, anyone?), but I actually love the woods in that weather- it feels extra quiet and mysterious and there tends to be fewer people on the trails.
As Chili and I began, I ran through my mental list of things “to do” while I was out there. I wanted to brainstorm a writing project and some website tweaks I’m making behind the scenes. I wanted to think about possible applications for some advice I’d heard on a podcast episode. Think through the structure of a class I’ll be offering locally in 2020.
I pulled up the “notes” app on my phone, ready to jot down what came to me. As I was looking down at my screen, a bigleaf maple leaf fell from the tree above me and landed across my phone.
How’s that for a sign from the universe?
As I peeled the enormous damp leaf from my phone, I realized that I’d fallen into a mindset trap that can sneak up on us without our noticing: the idea that “being productive” is the highest value on our time. It was a Tuesday in the middle of the day- didn’t I have to justify my hours in the woods with some kind of work product?
There are two big problems with that idea:
(1) It defines “productive” as relating solely to work product, to tangible, measurable outcomes related to how I make my living. That’s a pretty narrow definition.
What about how I do my living? As in, the quality of my life? Of my days? They’re numbered, after all. Such is the reality of mortality.
So why wouldn’t my definition of “productive” include things that bring health, wellness, wonder, awe, peace, or simple joy to my days?
Walking in the woods, reading a novel, meeting a friend for great conversation over coffee, sketching in my journal, taking in an exhibit…even binge-watching Netflix in the right circumstances- these can all qualify as “productive” tasks when we broaden the definition to include the things that make our lives richer and more enjoyable.
(2) If we’ve decided that being “productive” (even in it’s broadened definition) is the absolute highest value we can place on our time, we’ve disregarded the power of blank space in our lives. And blank space is where a lot of magic happens.
Part of what led me to a “to do” list of brainstorming ideas while on a walk in the woods is the fact that I often have breakthroughs and game-changing ideas when I’m out on such an excursion.
The reason that those breakthroughs and ideas happen is usually due to the fact that I’ve allowed my mind free time. I’ve allowed boredom and daydreaming and for my thoughts to wander where they will at random.
It’s amazing what can pop up when we allow our brains to do their own thing for a bit. It’s why so many ideas land on people while they’re in the shower.
Connections are made. Problems are solved. Ideas take shape.
But there’s no way to force this. There’s no way to prompt it.
We simply have to leave some blank space and then see what happens.
Sometimes that space will result in ideas or breakthroughs and sometimes it won’t. You never know.
At worst, we end up with a brain that got a bit of rest. Not such a bad deal, really.
So I invite you to broaden your definition of “productive” to include the things that add richness and meaning and joy to your life, regardless of whether they have a measurable outcome that makes money or not. And also to allow for some blank space for boredom and daydreaming and letting your mind wander at will.
I’d like to hear what that looks like for you, so hit reply and tell me- how do you define productive and where do you find some space in your days?
There in the water is Barley, our grand-dog whom we’ve been dog sitting for during the past week while our son and daughter-in-law were away at a wedding.
We adore Barley, who is very sweet and smart, and unbelievably persistent – possibly partly due to his being half Border Collie and half German Shepherd, both working dogs bred for their determination around completing tasks.
What you see above is a moment in time while Barley was in our favorite lake by our boat, swimming around and fetching the ball. What the shot doesn’t reveal is that he did this ALL DAY NONSTOP, even when we tried to coax him back into the boat. He was doing his thing, having a blast, enjoying the whole experience. Persistence generally works fine for him.
If you think of yourself as being persistent how would you know if it’s working for or against you? Persistence can be double edged – it can veer into obsessiveness, alienation and empty efforts creating undue frustration.
So, here are some signs to observe to help you determine how your persistence may be a positive or a negative around certain activities and attitudes:
1. Are you having fun in the process or is your blood pressure just getting elevated?
2. Have you issued some sort of disclaimer related to the time you need, or negotiated it with a partner, or are you isolating around your efforts in a way others may find rude or hurtful?
3. Are you experiencing some desired outcome for your efforts or would Barley think that you’re barking up the wrong tree?
4. Are you maintaining balance and attending to other things needing your attention or is your persistence canceling out other important things on your agenda?
5. Are you respectful of other’s time and energy or is the “bug in your bonnet” leading to excessive reminding, prompting or nagging to get others on board?
These are only a few signs which might be good indicators of how persistence is working for you. The main point is to be conscious and intentional about it.
It’s okay when you’re a dog to just “dive in” all day, but most of us don’t have that luxury!
PS. If you need some outside help with this or any other issue feel free to contact me to set up an appointment. I’d be glad to help!
I haven’t been blogging for more than a month, not only because of the holiday busyness, but because I have an overactive brain which got hijacked by an obsession for grain-free, low carb cooking and baking. I’ve discovered several websites which tout tons of recipes for healthy, wheat-free, sugar-free breads, cakes, soups, muffins, appetizers, candy, etc., all part of the “Wheatbelly” crusade. I’m hooked. I’m like a junkie on crack. I’m often up till 1:00 AM immersed in a world of other “junkies” who spend every kid-free, husband-free, (I’m not being sexist, it’s mostly women), moment making these healthy treats, and blogging about it on their sites. I call one bunch the “Mad Midnight Popsicle Mavens.” (They really started me on this mania, with their mouthwatering pictures of their mostly sugar-free creations).
This obsession actually started for a logical reason. I’d been suffering with acid reflux and asthma for several years, often rudely injecting itself into sessions with clients, with me either wheezing or choking for a period of time, on their dime. Clients were always very understanding, but I couldn’t tolerate feeling like an old coot, so I did my homework and found out about grain-free eating as an antidote in the Wheatbelly research. Thankfully, this way of life has helped enormously, but with the mixed outcome of creating a new “mania,” as I like to think of it – not a mental illness, but a happy passion. So happy, in fact, that I could forget to sleep, if I allowed myself, but I generally don’t.
So, what’s the point of this tale? To let anyone out there know that if you too are prone to fixations, preoccupations and manias, to be aware of how and when you allow them to rule your world. Do you forget to pick up your kids at daycare because you’re in a happy shopping trance? Does your obsession with learning an instrument trump paying the bills? Do you neglect your spouse because you’re fixated on a new puzzle? It’s all a consciousness and balance game.
Anyway, I gotta go. The grain-free cookies are calling….
I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with
skills and tools to transform your life.