Yesterday I was talking with a friend, just checking in on how they’re doing during quarantine. “How have you been spending your days?” I asked. “I haven’t been doing much of anything. There’s really nothing I can do right now,” they replied. Hmmm...I thought. They then asked about how I’m filling my time, that my experience was like their own. I reflected briefly then started, with energy that even surprised me, to name all sorts of things I’ve been doing to occupy my time. “I’ve been really great about meditating every day. Shiloh and I are going for walks and bike rides. I’m reading some interesting books. I designed and launched some new online courses, after of course, panicking like so many other small businesses about our viability. I’ve been working with friends in my community to sew masks and make face shields and get those to healthcare workers and people who are homeless. I’ve been doing some assessment and research for clients and working with them to create new models about which I’m really excited…” I rattled off quite the list! Needless to say, yesterday was a good day for me.
My answer aside, every day for me--probably like you--hasn’t felt very good. My days, and now weeks, have been like a slow-moving roller coaster, with plenty of sharp corners and several upside-down twirly-dirleys that I find myself unable to enjoy or even appreciate. I regularly remind myself that we’re all processing and figuring out things in our own ways; and that some people have additional layers of impact like loss of a job, personal or family illness, or worse. For many of us, though, this just feels like stolen time; like we have no control over our reality and the best we can do is wait for someone to tell us when this is over.
If you’re in that situation, watching and waiting, now might be a good time to reframe your thinking. Use this time in a way that allows you to experience the satisfaction associated with having some control over our lives. This is the satisfaction that is associated with progress, on your terms. I don’t mean you have to get an online degree or build a new wing on your house. Energy is at a premium right now. I get that. But think about what you’re thinking, and how you can positively impact it in a way that channels any energy you are able to muster toward outcomes that are meaningful to you.
Don’t let this be the time to collect and sit on a mountain of shoulds.
I bet I’m not the only one who finds myself thinking, “I should...
...really take this time to start an exercise routine.”
...try a vegan diet and see how I feel.”
....take time every day to write in the gratitude journal that’s been sitting on my bedside table for months.”
...begin writing that book that I’ve had in my heart for years.”
...learn some new skills that can add to my professional toolkit.”
...learn a new language.”
...take some online classes to start learning to play the piano.”
What are your shoulds?
I’ve had a lot of “shoulds” over the years. They come and go, and when they go, they usually come back again at some point, like a boomerang. In reflection, not doing something that I should have done--and knew I should have done at the time--are my only regrets. For example, I recently moved to South Florida and have so many amazing friends, most of whose first languages are either Spanish or Portuguese. Every time we’re together, even in our group chats, I catch myself shoulding...“Ah! I knew I should have started taking Spanish lessons years ago!”
Shoulds don’t have to be important to anyone beyond yourself; they can be totally selfish. Just don’t let them slip away. Don’t let the world shift yet again, our schedules populated with commuting and meetings and activities, having let this time, where the world is temporarily on pause from certain aspects of typical life, and look back with regret perched atop your small mountain of shoulds.