I am lying on the couch in the middle of the day on a sunny afternoon, and my motivation to do absolutely anything else has left. The. Building.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I do know what’s not wrong with me. I am not sick. I am not more tired than usual. I am not “due” for a down day. I am not bored. There are 100 good things I could be doing right now. It’s not as if I have already done all the extra projects I could have used this down time to do.
So many things to do and I don’t want to do any of them
In fact, I still have not done ANY of them. I could and probably should be sorting through closets or cleaning out the attic or repainting walls or washing windows or raking the yard or learning some new skill or at the very least figuring out how to harvest natural yeast from the air to bake my own sourdough bread.
The other members of my little family, meanwhile, are all admirably busy doing things in upright positions: Zoom classes and pre-calc homework and dance teaching videos and, in my husband’s case, keeping his small business chugging mercifully along.
This is how they’ve been going at it the whole time of the outbreak, entirely without my assistance, so I also cannot blame my utter lack of motivation on being worn down by their demands.
I’ve been exercising as usual every morning outside on our mostly deserted country road and, aside from baking a bit more than normal with my teenager, haven’t been carb-cramming, so I can’t blame my inertia on too little movement or too many cookies.
I’m not depressed or grieving anything in particular, really. I have things I’m looking forward to doing eventually, when they’re allowed again.
But at the moment (and it’s not just this moment…I’ve been like this for weeks), I’ve never in my life been less motivated to do a single thing that requires getting off this couch. So, since life at present isn’t making many external demands, an internal reset is clearly going to be necessary.
A pep-talk to give yourself
Here’s the five-part pep talk I’ll be giving myself for the foreseeable future:
1. Aim for better than zero. My sister coined this life-changing phrase a few years ago when we were playing a family game. The objective was to accumulate points—and my sister declared her goal was just to get anything “better than zero.”
In this extended coronavirus season, we’re all still trying to figure out how to live life in a way we’ve never exactly lived it before, with no intro course and no clear “end” date (whatever the “end” is going to look like). This is not the time to be trying to score 100 on of life’s many tests.
It’s not that I don’t want to do my best at the things that matter most. It’s not that I’m always settling for just enough. It’s not that I never pursue excellence. It’s just that sometimes, any score is a win. Sometimes, a single hash mark is a victory.
2. Plan something you’re pretty sure you can count on. In our family, we say that looking forward to something is at least half the fun of it. We milk future plans for all they’re worth. But making plans is tricky business these days. Fly somewhere? Maybe. Rent a place? Maybe. Buy tickets to something? Maybe. Schedule a trip? Maybe.
At the moment, we need some plans that are if not “concrete” at least as firm as we can make them. Parking-lot picnics in cars parked side-by-side with friends. Trips to a family lake cottage now that our state’s governor has cleared the way for second-home usage. A 25th wedding anniversary dinner comprised of the fanciest take-out food we can get our hands on, eaten on our wedding china at the dining room table with our children, whom we will force to listen to “tales from a quarter-century of marriage.”
3. Just start. Not to go all “Mary Poppins” here, but I do think the lady was onto something when she told little Michael and Jane, “Once begun is half done.” The starting is usually the sticking point for me, whether what I’m “starting” is getting up off the couch or cleaning out the attic. Along these same lines, I read a tip about how to make exercise a regular habit that suggested would-be walkers tell themselves they only had to go for 10 minutes and then they could be done if they wanted to. Of course, the idea is that once you’re dressed and have put on your shoes and gotten yourself going, you usually keep going past 10 minutes. I’m banking on that.
4. Do the worst. Late last night before she went to bed, my college student told me her plan when she got up in the morning was to straight-away tackle a particular final project looming between her and the blessed end of her junior year. “It’s the thing I’m dreading the most, so I want to get it out of the way first.” Smart girl. In my more motivated days (which I’m hoping to channel again soon), I found that clearing the worst item on my to-list off it energized me for everything after it.
5. Make someone else’s day. While I’ve been lying on the couch, my teenager and young adult have been “spreading hope” as part of a project for the dance studio where they’re both teachers. Everyone on staff was charged with the task of doing some random act of kindness in the community and to make a short video about it; a compilation “hope” video would then be shared with the studio’s students and families.
My teen paid it forward at the drive-thru, and my college student assembled “out of the blue” thank-you boxes full of “blue” items for teachers represented by the dance family. They did these deeds with an enthusiasm and energy I know I could stand to harness.
My couch and I are old friends, and I don’t expect to fully sever the relationship anytime soon. But if I can leave it for a while and score a life point or two, make some forward-facing plans, start a project, cross a dreaded task off my should-do list, and extend myself beyond myself, I’m pretty sure my old friend will feel a lot more comfortable the next time I flop, rather triumphantly, back down onto it.
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