I Have Better Success with Tricking Myself to Do Things Than Forcing Myself

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I hit a rough patch for a few weeks in March. Late-stage pandemic has been wearing on everyone. Coming around to the one-year anniversary and still having even the still-semi-weird “new normal” a bit out of reach (but creeping closer every day) hit a lot of people hard. I’m sensitive. A bit of a sponge. So I felt that.

And in March, I was still recovering from the chaos that hit in mid to late February when my entire state lost power at once.

I got into this space where I could do the absolute minimum that needed to be done. But not a thing more. Not even if that extra task was fun. I was able to keep up on my basic responsibilities — my chores, writing, etc. But the rest of my life I was sleepwalking through. It didn’t feel real. I was in power-save mode.

It took my partner a bit to notice. I mentioned it, but I think sometimes it doesn’t really hit home for people since I tend to still appear pretty normal even when I’m falling apart (an old survival tactic in a difficult childhood home, appearing more okay than you are so that people mostly leave you alone). But they did. And after some tough conversations, they convinced me to try to escape the pattern I’m in.

It takes so much more energy to get back into the groove when you’ve jumped out than it does to just roll in the groove once you’re well seated there.

I’ve found that I can’t just force it. Well, I can — but it’s usually not that effective. Even if it works (and it often doesn’t), I’ll be miserable and cause a secondary pattern of unresolved stress, sort of like an emotional debt I’ll have to pay later with interest.

Instead, the key for me has been finding ways to trick myself into getting back into the groove. I do this by starting to add in “extra” things. They can be a 1:1 mix of fun and not-fun. Or even more fun things than not-fun things at first. Anything I need to do in order to incorporate “extra” things, to signal to my body that it’s time to stop surviving and actually start living.

It never seems like it’s going to work when I start. But little by little, I’ll find myself drifting back into old patterns, more productive ones.

And before I know it, I’m back in the groove.

How am I doing today as I write this essay? Truthfully, I’m making some headway. Still don’t feel like I have it completely kicked, but I’m trying to get there. I’m up to my old tricks again, as they say.

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