I was recently talking to a super smart coach friend and we were chewing on the idea of bringing more joy and pleasure into our lives. Worthwhile, right? Who doesn’t want more joy and pleasure? Hang on kids, because any minute there’s going to be all kinds of decorations telling you to get your joy on.
As we talked it became pretty clear to me that while I do have a lot of joy in my life, I’m a bit stingy with myself when it comes to joy and pleasure. Productivity? Now THAT’s a measure I can get behind, but joy and pleasure… that’s not a yardstick this girl’s history really supports. As we talked about the time of day when I have the biggest (read kid-free) opportunity to choose to do something for joy or pleasure, I quickly began giving reasons why I can’t do the things I’d like to do.
I can’t practice music because our “open” floor plan translates into acoustic nightmare for the purposes of child bedtimes. I can’t go out with friends because I spend time out for music a couple of times a week, should be here. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…. translation I won’t, I won’t, I won’t, I won’t. We could keep going and I could give lots of other reasons for why I don’t use that time to my most heart worthy advantage, but I’m guessing you know those reasons. I’d lay money on you having some of those reasons too… I’m too tired. I just want to relax. I had a hard day. And yet, I don’t go to bed. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
I will avoid sleep because some part of me yearns for this part of the day, when I get to choose, and yet I limit my own choices far more than my awake children ever would. I wait for this time and then I bind myself with ideas about what a good parent would do, what a good mother would do, how a perfect family life would be. In my frustration over my self-imposed limitations, I settle. I settle for TV shows I’m ambivalent about, some social media and maybe a glass of wine. It’s not bad. Seriously, I’d be a spoiled jerk if I complained about having access to that evening. But it doesn’t actually DO anything for me. It doesn’t help me accomplish anything I want to accomplish. It doesn’t allow me to actually rest (like I would, say, if I went to bed early or chose to meditate). And it doesn’t actually provide me with real pleasure or human connection. It’s a non-plan that does nothing. It’s like being on hold when the music isn’t the worst you’ve ever heard.
Since having this conversation and recognizing the pattern I’ve created for myself, I’ve been experimenting with some things. I’ve been attempting a slightly more singular focus. I’ve stopped watching television that I don’t either learn from or enjoy. If I’m neutral about it, it’s out. If it’s fiction and it’s too violent or gory for me, it’s out. And when I watch, I’ve been trying to actually watch, close the laptop and enjoy it. That’s what it’s there for, to enjoy or to learn from. I’m also paying attention to what actually brings me pleasure. I’m trying to make the most of opportunities I have to be out in nature (longer walks with the pooch). I’m trying to give myself a little more time with errands I actually enjoy (God help me I actually like the grocery store). I’m paying more attention to how the things I’m putting in my body make me feel. I’m lingering at the window to see the leaves. I’m spending a few extra minutes with friends at choir or after church. I’m trusting my sense that I’m still a good mother even if I’m not around all the time and scheduling a little more non-family time with friends.
And you know what? I feel better. I’m happier. I’m sleeping better. Not all of my time has to be productive to be time well spent, but there does seem to be a bottom limit here. And the non-plan time feels bad all the way around. Killing time is just killing time. Killing time prevents me from rest, keeps me disconnected from others and myself, and doesn’t even have the benefit of checking off a few boxes on the To Do list. No benefit. When I tell myself I’m too tired for anything else, I’m going to either go take a warm bath or go to bed. When I tell myself I can’t play music or I’ll wake the children, I’m going to find a way to play more quietly or farther away in the house, or meet a musician friend elsewhere for some playing. When I feel weary with the world and just need to enjoy something, I’m going to sit with my husband and watch some comedy (Dana Carvey tonight) and remember how great it is to laugh.
If you suspect you may be killing time, or you can’t remember what you’d really rather be doing, I’d be delighted to help you with that. Who knows, maybe I’ll even make you laugh.