I’m taking the opportunity of all this unaccustomed time I have at the moment to try to learn some new habits. One of the activities my CBT coach got me to do when my anxiety was at its worst was to create a weekly timetable and then evaluate how I felt about what I did in each time slot. I rated from 0-10 for Achievement and from 0-10 for Enjoyment.
Probably unsurprisingly after so many years at work, where I was rated almost entirely on what I got done, I am very task focused. So with my weekly timetable, task after task was an achievement, but nothing was particularly enjoyable. If anyone is feeling that their life is a little, or a lot, off balance, I’d recommend trying that rating exercise, by the way.
Somewhere along the way I developed the attitude that anything enjoyable should be pushed to the fringes of life. Fine to do when the chores are done, but not stuff that can take priority. I am a tidy, organised, control freak anyway and I think my previously frenetic working life exacerbated these tendencies. Life really did become all work.
But the chores are never done and they never will be. I’m learning that that’s ok, and I’m deliberately trying to create more balance by forcing myself not to do things. One way to do that is to focus on just doing one thing at a time. So I started by just listening to a podcast. Then just listening to the radio. Like a lot of people, I think, I’ve tended to use the radio as background noise. But I can’t work or read with background noise, and now I’m not driving much I’m missing shows that I liked.
No one thinks it’s weird to sit down and watch TV for a couple of hours. But who these days sits down to give the radio their full attention? I started by settling myself in with a pot of coffee one Saturday morning and listening to Saturday Live on R4. To start with, it felt strange and twitchy. I had to keep reminding myself that this was what I was supposed to be doing with the time. I reached repeatedly for my phone, and then put it down again as I realised I was about to start multi-tasking. I made myself stay still, and I listened to the whole programme. Then I got on with my usual day, but feeling calmer and more grounded. I noticed that my entire day seemed to run more slowly and comfortably.
Mid-week and I listened to a podcast about Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal. It’s long been my favourite poem and this show included Samuel West reading parts of it aloud – absolute bliss. I dug out my copy of the poem to take to bed with me, and over the next couple of nights I read the whole thing aloud to myself. Sunday morning brought The Archers omnibus and ok, I did a bit of a Tweetalong as well. But that was less a distraction and more a shared experience. It’s not as if The Archers is always very interesting – there are whole storylines that are dull as blocked culvert water. So allowing myself to be bored for a couple of minutes becomes part of the experience as well.
I like this slowing down and paying attention. Everything that needs to happen still happens. But, taking one thing at a time smoothes the rhythm of the day and makes everything more enjoyable.