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mental healththis is a tiny stretch this week, maybe? just hang with me

My friend Wendy sent me a link to this article the other day that talks about getting shit done. It’s a great article and you should totally read it. If you’re lazy, I will summarize.

Are you familiar with the fable about the Tortoise and the Hare? The hare is a big ol’ smack-talking fool who just knows that he can beat the tortoise because, well, tortoise. But the tortoise takes his time and just keeps on trucking and ends up beating the hare by keeping to his slow but steady pace. tortoise_and_the_hare-300x249The idea behind “average speed” is pretty similar. Sure it’s great to make an all out push to do a lot of something all at once or do it harder/faster/whatever than other people. But if you can’t maintain that pace then what good is it?

James, the author, says that committing to a more normal pace that you can sustain for a longer haul actually produces greater results because you get a little something done on a much more consistent basis.

Consistency kids, that’s where it’s at. Slow and steady.

So you do something, say exercising, and right now you do ok with doing it once a week. James suggests that you try “graduating” up to twice a week. Once that becomes easy and routine, graduate up to three times, and so on. Again, it’s about establishing consistent habits that you can maintain on a regular basis. And being gentle with yourself when you have an off day. (LOVE that he includes that!)

Now, how does this apply to mental health? I can think of LOTS of ways…

  • Perhaps you are not always so consistent with going to bed at a time that allows you to get the amount of sleep your body prefers. Start with a plan to stick to your bedtime two nights a week and graduate yourself up from there. (I tend not to be so careful on Friday and Saturday nights, but deviating even then can cause problems for me. Know your body and what it needs for sleep and then adjust accordingly.)
  • Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed by the physical stuff in your home and this is causing anxiety. Make a plan to spend to spend 10 minutes three times a week to work on an area. Set a timer if you want to. You can continue doing this until you no longer feel the anxiety (because enough stuff is gone) or you can graduate to longer periods of time or more of them.
  • Perhaps your mental health care provider (and maybe general practitioner) is recommending exercise as a way to help with anxiety or other health issues. Start with a specific amount of time, maybe 15 minutes, or if you’re into the Fitbit thing you can set a goal for yourself of a specific number of steps every day. As that becomes easy, graduate up to more.
  • Perhaps you, like me, have Bipolar Disorder and miss the creative bursts that often accompany mania. (trust me, that is the ONLY good thing about that demon) So work on developing a habit of creativity that you can call on anytime. Pick your outlet (drawing, painting, knitting, writing, cooking, playing a musical instrument, making jewelry…) and set aside 10 minutes every day to do it. You could pick small projects to work on like just doodling, a pair of earrings, a portion of a scarf, learning a new chord on the guitar, the thing isn’t the important part of this. The act of setting aside the time to let your brain purposely be creative is what’s creative. In my experience, the more you tap into it with purpose the easier it gets.

Part of what appeals to me so much about this whole idea is the routine and consistency. For me to get something important done it really has to be a part of my day to day life. I don’t typically have to do a big whonking chunk at once to feel successful so long as I do a little every day. It really is like the my friend WeeGee says,

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.