A few weeks ago I wrote about feeling torn between creation and connection and the tug of war between two competing (if not opposing) demands on my time and energy while my book gets into the final lap of being launched.
As I tried to make peace between the two, trying to keep the creative muse happy while feeding the needy beast of connection, I realised that I have been here before.
Between work and home, between self and society, between personal and public, there is always a tension, a push-pull of priorities that causes unease.
It feels chaotic at such times when the entropy increases at a rate that I am unable to control. I get sucked into whatever is most urgent. I react with my reptilian brain that seeks to protect me from harm. But this kind of freefall is not comfortable.
I sleep less. I worry more. The to-do list keeps growing while the feeling of accomplishment at completing tasks keeps diminishing. How then to find balance?
I recalled those times when I felt like I was hurtling down a steep slope not entirely of my choosing. Just the memory made me nauseous. I persisted with it until I got to the heart of the matter.
Given my tendency to pile on more things that I can happily mamange, I usually wear myself out. The sheer fatigue takes away the joy from the activities that give me pleasure.
Turns out there is an explanation for this. Take a look at the image below.
Circumplex-model – Image sourced through Google search
This model represents the quadrants in which each person naturally falls into. Mine is the high activity positive valence quadrant on the top right. When I am here, I feel greatly satisfied with life. But when I am overburdened, I slide into the left bottom quadrant where fatigue rules. This slide is usually not straight but goes in a counter-clockwise direction, where I travel through high activity negative valence and feel annoyed and frustrated.
My fatigue used to be the sign that would show me that I have moved into an uncomfortable space. But with a few years of practise (and life experiences), my annoyance and frustration usually clue me in on how I am feeling about life in general.
How does this help
When I begin to feel like I’m spinning my wheels, working harder but not making much progress I stop and take stock of what is really bothering me.
At my core, I am a doer. Getting things done is my superpower. Setting goals and moving towards it with a clear focus while being flexible and resourceful is what I enjoy. But when everything I do is geared towards outcomes, somewhere the joy evaporates.
To reclaim the simple pleasure of being creative, without the pressure to be consistent and share my output, this is what I did:
- Create first – Mornings are the best time of the day for me to write something original, explore a new idea or follow a random trail of thought that lands in my consciousness.Sometimes a rough draft merges, sometimes it is a fully formed article that is almost ready to be shared with the world. And this fills me with satisfaction at having indulged my muse and nurtured my spirit.
- Make space for idleness – The barrage of productivity hacks and strategies make me ill. Trying to fit in as much as possible into a single day reminds me of the overflowing Mumbai local trains that I used to commute to my college all those years ago. Just like the suffocation I used to feel when there was no space between people, my jam-packed days leave me no room to breathe. My shallow breaths and lethargy go hand in hand. That’s when I realise that I can’t wait for the weekend to take a break, I must pause and walk away. Sometimes I gaze out the window and watch a flock of yellow parrots take off in the distance, At other times, I put on my walking shoes and head to my sanctuary in the nature reserve behind my home, stopping to admire the flowers or wildlife.
- Reach out – The pandemic has starved us of the very thing that nourishes the human spirit – connection with others. We need a variety of interactions to nourish our need for belonging. Whether it’s work or a classroom or a gym where you stake a claim to be a small but important part of the whole, we need to know that our presence matters. And we sequester ourselves at home, we lose out on benefits of the life-affirming bonds formed with others. I try to meet people for coffee or lunch or a quick chat while strolling through a green space. New ideas come, new memories are formed and the feeling of significance is restored.
Meaning comes from a feeling of having purpose, of having significance and most importantly, of having coherence in life.
Our greatest responsibility in life is to find that special combination of actions, emotions and transcendence that is meaningful to us. It’s not a bottled formula to be consumed but a special recipe to be concocted and tweaked until it feels right. Like us, it is a work in progress.
How do you deal with burnout?