*Names changed to protect identities
There are a lot of responses to the change of pace that our world is going through now. Some things hit us quickly, like fear, or the sudden relief that you can wallow (without guilt) at home. Hitting me now, however, is the longer-term challenge to stay motivated and passionate about my degree. All of these responses are valid, as any psychologist or good friend will tell you! Does every goal fulfil self-actualisation or have some become unhealthy habit rituals?
Last week, I read a great article about how so many millennials and gen z kids constantly need to feel busy in order to feel successful. Lots of us are proud of a lack of time and proud of an “I’m too busy to cook” attitude. Inspiring read, thank you Verity Johnson. This conflict between busy habits and neglected nutrition reminded me of a thought I had before this year started: when we make goals for ourselves and our future, I’m not so sure we stop to think if it’s healthy. Fair enough – when goal-setting, it’s normal to underestimate the potential issues and overestimate the tasty fruits of success. But, is it possible to acknowledge that the pace of goal setting and personal management could in itself be unhealthy? Can we make that extra step down into a DMC for a hot second… At university, there are many opportunities to fulfil the pinnacle need of “self-actualisation” (Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?). At uni, you can follow your dreams to a better life and a better income. But that’s not the be-all and end-all of our time here. We need to be social to be healthy and recognise that being a UoA student comes with meaningful connections too. Given the times now, let’s check-in on some deeper needs to stay healthy.
Is your busy goal-setting screwing with the time you have to cook and eat good food as it does with many of us? Is your proudly busy schedule pushing away valuable social connections? And is constant goal-setting blocking out internal cues which relate to stress, boredom, sleepiness, irritability, hunger, curiosity, or arousal? We can push these human things aside for a long time in the face of highfalutin dreams of success, but at what cost to our health? Isolated and confronted with our basic habits, I think it’s harder to distract oneself with busy goals. That means it’s a really good time to check in with your mental health. What are you checking? Blood pressure, heart rate… I even googled some at home cortisol tests… No. Search for these quieter voices that say you need a break, or you need more stimulation, or you need to cut out Barbara* from your Facebook feed. Whatever – just listen closely, because it’s possible to tune into some unique frequencies now we’ve been given this opportunity to reflect.
It can be really scary to let go of the assumptions we make up about ourselves. Especially those assumptions that are like pillars we hold to prop up our ego. “I’m a nice person,” “I’m a type-A personality,” “I’m the funniest friend,” “I’m the hardest worker,” etc. The forces that have isolated us all can swipe huge chunks of our life away and lock what’s left of our personality in quarantine too – thanks Aunty Cindy. With so many daily patterns interrupted, we don’t have a choice in letting go of some of those personality pillars. If you dropped some of your goals and ambition in the teaching free week (like I did), and feel more settled in isolation now, what do you really miss about yourself? You get to pick and choose tasks to include in your life with some incredible freedom now. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this is an excellent time to cut out some shit friends, cut out some coffee habits, reconnect with family, or reconnect with old hobbies. You could probably cut out some unnecessary internal pressure too. Focus on the goals that matter most to you because it comes from a meaningful and sensitive place. Let the other milestones that don’t matter so much sail by, while you pursue what really makes you tick.
I will finish with a piece of wisdom I picked up from binge re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. In a tender moment, General Iroh (despite being from the Fire Nation, he’s really the rock of the whole show) turns to his nephew. He says, “No! Zuko! You must never give into despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road, and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.” Listen very closely to yourself and those who care about you. Sometimes it can be shouted like Iroh to Zuko. But sometimes it’s quiet and invisible, like hope, that could otherwise be drowned out by overly busy thoughts and ambitions.