There have been many articles circulating about the best way to deal with lockdown, furloughing and long weekends. Learn a new language? Get your house-hold jobs done? Volunteer? Catch up on the Box-Sets?
The best one that I read, by a psychologist, suggested that because there was no precedent for these strange times that one size doesn’t fit all. Whilst some people might feel the need to fill the time with purposeful activities, others will feel they want to do the opposite and literally let the days flow by with no plans whatsoever. The recommendation from the article that stayed with was the concept of “radical acceptance” – that whatever you notice about yourself in these unusual weeks – simply accept you are as you are. Notice your thoughts and behaviours but do so without judgement, guilt or giving yourself a hard time about not having “your perfect lockdown”.
Developing high levels self awareness, managing your internal voice and practising the art of observing without prejudice is a pre-requisite for the job I do. One thing I have come to know about myself is that I am appalling at relaxing by doing very little. Lockdown has been no different. I’ve been compelled to find activities or projects. However, I’m not a fan of the articles I have read that suggest everyone should get busy and feel guilty if they don’t. It sounds obvious, but sources of relaxation and pleasure are very different for different people. I have come to know that just because I relax better via activity, I should be cautious about doing anything to signal subliminally or overtly that those who relax by not being busy would be “better off” joining me. Not only can it be plain irritating, but when we influence others as a parent, boss or coach, we can accidentally make people feel that they are not “doing enough”. I hope that more often than not these days I signal to my laid back friends that taking a whole day to just “be” is something I envy their ability to do, rather than something I am comparing unfavourably with my list of “achievements” over a weekend.
I read a while ago that how we relax can be related to our personality preferences and our innate wiring. Certainly my lockdown has been very “Red” and full of Extraverted Thought. I’ve been taking action and doing things that “make sense” because they look to make practical advantage of the situation we are in. I have other friends more “Yellow” friends who have whole-heartedly entered the world of video socialising with a gusto, that I personally would find exhausting, but they are exhilarated by. My “plenty of Blue” energy husband, working 12 hour days from home, is already seeing this period as “business as usual”. He is resolving problems that seem quite complex to me with minimal fuss or debate so he can focus on the long term strategic plan.
Whatever is working for you, one thing I have been a bit disturbed by are the tweets and articles that suggest that if you don’t come out of lockdown with a new skill or a stronger than ever network, that you have somehow “failed” the lockdown challenge.
What this perspective fails to note is that for much of the population, this will be a time where people will feel the need to reflect, not act. We can sometimes forget that actually taking pleasure in just “being” is exceptionally good for our brains and one of the great luxuries of first world living. Thus, rather than being critical of my more “Green” friends using the time to reflect on how the world is and might be and “producing” very little who feel a bit guilty about it, I’m reassuring them reflecting much and “achieving” little is something more of us would benefit from doing and actively a great thing – and to positively ignore those who would seek to criticise their coping mechanisms and sources of strength and pleasure.
I’d be really interested to know what you have been doing and whether you think it related to your innate wiring. Have you surprised yourself? Or actually done things that are “so you” that it makes you smile?
Let me confess to what I have been up to and in reading the above, please be reassured that I am smiling at myself needing to stay busy with practical things and am in no way suggesting you should find a project, just because I needed one! And I use the word “confess” because as ever, with so many of my projects, some friends and colleagues will admire my drive and creativity…whilst some (2/5th of my teenagers included) will think I am just a little bit mad…
I created a deck of playing cards…
As ever, there’s a story…
Those of you who have attended Tea Break Training sessions (currently closed but hopefully opening soon) will know that I always bring 2 things.
- Reassurance about the benefits of experiencing “incompetence”. I share how I deliberately take on a challenge every couple years to remind myself about how it feels to be utterly incompetence at something – and to prove to myself and others that staying “incompetent” can be a choice. When your brain tells you “I’ve never been able to and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…” or “I’d love to do that but would never have the time…” those phrases are likely to be personalised and terrific sounding “lies” – a trick that your brain plays so that you won’t feel the shame of any incompetence, or invest the time in doing something about it. All very well if the new skill doesn’t really matter, but actually quite important in personal development if the world is moving on and you aren’t keeping up. I help people to understand that our brains are very good at inventing very grown up sounding responses involving how busy we are or how we can manage perfectly well without a skill, to make it the sensible choice not to do anything about it.
- Lots of post-its…
So my point 1) includes a story I tell that as a child, I had tried and failed to play several instruments and thus told myself “I can’t play a musical instrument…so as 40+ adult I have learnt to play the guitar (and to sing along, but the teenagers would disagree with the verb “sing).
I can now surf (even the teenagers need to admit that one is true.)
The hidden incompetence I had been meaning to getting around to fix for a while is that I’m rubbish at History. There we go, I said it out-loud. It’s been fairly well hidden because I did an English degree, so I’d always been able to bluff my way through a game of Trivial Pursuit or a pub quiz by pausing to “let other people have a go” when a question about who was on the throne at a certain time or which composer wrote…But the truth was, having not even chosen History at GCSE, I hadn’t a clue. I was a bit embarrassed by it so I’d decided I’d embrace my incompetence and I had an idea how.
It involved my 2) – Lots of Post Its.
I decided to do a home version of the classic history classroom where timeline that you get near the ceiling like an educational wallpaper border, I would get some colour co-ordinated gaffer tape to match my decor and create one myself by chronologically writing the dates of the Kings and Queens of the UK around the wall. Then I would write a novel, a poem I loved, a play I’d enjoyed and some of the key things in history that were of particular interest to me on a post it. And I would stick them up on the time-line. That way if I was watching a quiz on TV and a question came up about history and could zip to the right part of the timeline and know the answer. In time, after a few months of it being there, I could take the timeline down and I would still know what went where or I could at least work it out because I would know that Shakespeare was to the left of the big light and quite a long way from Mozart who was closer to the picture of the Tyne Bridge.
Well I thought so. I bought the kit. Calligraphy Pens. Chalk Markers. Got excited. This was going to be a GREAT lock down project.
Well NOT as it turns out. Definitely NOT Genius according to the teenagers. When I excitedly told them about my plan it didn’t go down so well. Imagine telling your kids you had cancelled all Birthday and Christmas presents this year due to Covid 19 and you were going to raise money by doing a live acoustic guitar and you wanted them to publicise it on their Instagram accounts.
Yes that positive.
Amid the shouts about getting the step-ladder out to take the time-line down the moment it went up, my husband calmly brought the project to a halt. “You won’t need the step-ladder guys, I’m tall enough to reach.”
Resigned to remaining historically ignorant, I went off to sulk with a glass of wine and a bit of online shopping. I’d fancied a really nice set of playing cards for ages. I’d initially asked for a set for my birthday and Mother’s Day but with lockdown I’d changed my mind and asked for IOU’s for restaurants instead. It was then that the various thoughts coincided in my left-field, connective, noisy brain. Why not create a deck of cards that had the same information as the timeline that wouldn’t embarrass anyone. I could just play my patience and learn my facts all by myself…
It didn’t take much to send my brain into a much more positive over-thinking state…
If all the hearts were writers and you were playing a game and got a “run”, you would get to know your writers and who came where, almost by accident, just by playing a game of cards.
If all the Spades were the corresponding Kings and Queens of the time that matched the writer on the Heart card, and all the Diamonds were composers, then if you were playing a game where you collected all the 7’s you would know that Jane Austen was writing, when George III was on the throne and Mozart and Beethoven were around…
Given I’ve written a couple of books with pictures and I’ve produced some card games for training, I knew I’d be able to turn the idea into something real. Never one to let the practical realities like the expense get in the way of imagination, I thought I’d crack on. I started a spreadsheet to do the research and happily distracted myself when I started to worry about things I couldn’t control.
Just like I recommend to my clients, whenever I started to veer outside my sphere of influence or control and worry about global death tolls, my vulnerable relatives or the plight of some of the wonderful businesses I know and love, I instead looked up who was composing music when Shakespeare was writing plays. Or when Edward proposed to Mrs Simpson, what would people have been reading or listening to.
Fast forward 3 weeks and this small project has turned into something quite lovely. My friend Sarah Walden who runs Noodle Fuel – a publishing and production company specialising in children’s reading and education – loved the idea and thought they had potential. The wonderfully talented Mark Bennington who does my Rocket Science illustrations (and is cool enough to have worked on The Beano for many years) was also in lockdown had some free time and some great ideas. Sarah recognised that the economics scaled up a bit with a local printer could mean this was an opportunity not to provide myself with one super-expensive set of cards to play Patience with, but a way to do something philanthropic and sell them with a donation to charity.
We contacted The Big Issue Foundation, a charity I have grown to love over the past few months and here we are. My lockdown cards will be available from next Wednesday. The Big Issue Foundation will make £1 per pack sold. I’ve had hours where the weight of the world wasn’t on my shoulders. And the teenagers are talking to me again – and actually said they will play some cards with me when they arrive…because “actually Mum, they are an alright idea to say they came from your head.” I’ll take that.
So do or don’t do a project. Please yourself. I did. And I’m really happy I did. But when they arrive, I’m going to try to develop another area of incompetence – probably for me, the hardest of all…Doing nothing for a few days. Other than perhaps playing cards…