The official end of spring is still three weeks away, but mentally, I’m already in summer mode. The weather is warm more days than not. The school year is winding down—or, perhaps more accurately for some of us, limping along to a much-anticipated finish line—and with it, my work responsibilities are slowly dropping out of my life in a series of lasts that would be poignant if they weren’t such a relief.
I’m ready for summer—like, I’m ready. I have no expectation that it will feel “normal”—I think it might be a while before anything really does—but now that I’ve grieved the last canceled event of the summer and accepted that we’re in this for the long haul, a lot of the uncertainty that characterized the early weeks of the pandemic has subsided. I’m ready to look back and take into account the lessons I’ve learned during this weird and very stressful time—but then, I’m ready to move on.
At the end of every season, Emily P. Freeman shares a list on her blog of things she’s learned. Inspired by her example, I started a list in my journal and easily filled five pages with all the things I’ve learned over the last three months—the profound, and also the insignificant. Here, in no particular order, are 10 of them.
#1: I need accountability
I am much more likely to stick with anything—Bible reading plan, yoga challenge, you name it—if I’m doing it alongside someone else. And I get more out of the experience because I’m unconsciously keeping track of things I can mention next time I talk to that person.
#2: I need concrete action steps.
At the end of February, I started asking my therapist to give me one or two specific action steps at the end of each session to work on in between appointments. This gives me a clear target to aim for each week, and I’ve made so much more progress on my mental health goals as a result.
Here’s why this matters: overarching intentions don’t get me very far if I can’t break them down into actionable, measurable steps. Knowing where I want to end up is not the same thing as knowing what actions will get me there.
#3: Goals need to develop organically
In December, I picked my goals for the year, and then I planned what I would do throughout the year to achieve those goals. The plan was a great one—except that it didn’t leave me a lot of wiggle room to pivot my goals when I needed to.
My yearly goals still represent my top priorities for 2020, but I wish I’d waited to choose the action steps each season or month instead of trying to plan it all out in advance. The way I choose to make progress on a goal needs to evolve organically along with my needs and circumstances (hello, pandemic).
#4: I feel better when I don’t eat sugar.
Like, a LOT better.
I did a sugar fast for the first time ever in March. It was meant to be a temporary thing, and by the end of the month I was eager to be able to eat anything I wanted again. Much to my chagrin, though, I don’t feel better when I eat whatever I want. I feel tired. I have more depression symptoms. I struggle to do yoga poses that felt easy a month ago.
I still want to be able to have a cinnamon roll or a chai latte now and then—but I have to face the facts that I feel physically and emotionally better when I steer clear of sugar the majority of the time.
#5: Making a wellbeing list works better than a to-do list.
Instead of writing a to-do list every day, I started approaching my day with the question, “What would make today feel like a good day?”
Yes, there are a couple of to-dos that would feel great to accomplish. But what would really make today feel like a good day to me is eating extra vegetables at lunch, staring out the window for a couple of minutes while drinking my tea, and reading for 15 minutes before bed instead of vacuuming my floor.
Vacuuming needs to be done eventually—but it doesn’t have to happen today. And I approach my day with a lot more motivation when my goal is to have a good day rather than check off an arbitrary list.
#6: Everything I actually care about on social media takes 20 minutes or less
Last month, I muted half the accounts I follow on Instagram and deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone. It takes me less than 20 minutes to look at the stuff I actually care about, and I don’t miss the rest of it at all.
#7: If you want to feel happy, lean in to feeling sad.
When you numb the sad feelings, you inadvertently suppress the happy ones, too. The only way to feel happy overall—especially during hard times like this—is accept and embrace every emotion that comes, even the ones that aren’t fun.
#8: You can get a lot done in 5 minutes.
There are two kinds of tasks: those that require a focused block of time, and those that don’t.
If I wait until I have a solid hour to formally address my to-do list, I’ll never get anything done—but it turns out I can cross off a lot in 5 or 10 minute spurts throughout the day!
#9: Having too many tools is driving me CRAZY.
Having to keep 5 different journals, notebooks, and planners on hand to get through each day is a giant pain. Having to make room on my desk for 3 different sets of colored pens and highlighters is also a pain. The one-notebook-for-everything approach is looking better all the time.
#10: Setting a timer REALLY helps me focus.
I know, I know, everybody already knows this, and it’s been mentioned by so many “productivity experts” that it sounds almost cliche to say it’s been a game changer for me. But here’s the thing: everything they say about setting a timer is true. Tasks expand to fit the time; breaks can take over your entire work day; and you focus a lot more when you know you only have to keep it up for 20 minutes.
What did you learn this spring? Let me know in the comments below!