Or the time of the year, or the loony phase of the moon. But I’ve had days this month when just breathing was a relief, a coffee break counted as a major victory, and an oatmeal raisin cookie felt like a gift from heaven.
Those days, a quiet, boring existence sounded like a wonderful upgrade.
It’s not just me, is it?
Every day, I see the consequences of modern life in my practice — mainly as stress in all of its manifestations. The human brain has a near infinite capacity to do remarkable things, but our minds have a coping limit that we consistently blow through. Past that point, things don’t work so well.
A cool breeze across the frontal lobes can be a most welcome reset. The antidote to The Kajillion Demands isn’t a shinier iPhone or another Netflix dramady. It’s some danged peace and quiet.
That being said, there are reasons to do more than just recuperate. Not instead of, but in addition to.
When things are crazy, it’s natural to retreat into the simple things: food, quiet, and sleep (preferably with an eye pillow and earplugs). But much as you need to tune-out the craziness, you won’t get far by only walking away.
For a personal reset, quietude definitely helps. Yet, in the time it takes you to get your head screwed back on, there are other things that aren’t happening. Getting stronger. Helping your friends. Teaching others. Learning. Preparing for lean times. Eyeballing threats.
It’s cool in the mountain cave, but in the outside world, the battle rages on.
Are there people or corporations whose interests are best served by keeping you befuddled, easily misled, and sidelined, while you hand over your money, time, or loyalty? Almost certainly — I suspect any time there’s a profit to be made by having you part with your money, time, or other resources, there’s someone working to do just that.
But even if not, there’s entropy: the passage of time, and the tendency of all systems to become more disorderly and wind down. Without work to the contrary, rooms get messier, waists get chubbier, and energy levels get poopier.
Translation: whether external entities are trying to keep you fat, dumb, and distracted, the natural arrow of time tends towards becoming fat, dumb, and distracted. There are more streaming channels now, not less; more social media and news voices, not less; more processed snacks and processed food delivery services, not less; and more Pharma consumer ads, not less. It’s enough to make you close your bleary eyes and curl up into a ball, and then you have to deal with things called predators and scavengers…
What is a Paleolithic hominid brain to do?
Mental health has an answer, and not surprisingly, what’s good for the mind is pretty much good for all its attached wetware.
First, settle down, catch your breath, and turn your brain back on.
If that high-pitched sound you hear isn’t a train whistle but your mind screaming omigodomigodomigod because of politics, finances, health worries, or global warming, you are in stampede mode like a herd animal in a forest fire. Your lizard brain is literally trying to run away with you, and it is strong and fast.
The defining feature of higher humanity is the capacity to choose. Are you going to jerk reflexively, or be more thoughtful? There are many options if you pump the brakes for a moment and consider; only the stampeding option if you don’t. And being driven and herded by others is not generally done with your welfare in mind.
When an ROI of zero is bueno
There is one exception to the rule of Settle Down And Use The Brain That God And Your Momma Gave You. And that’s when you’re chewing yourself to pieces.
If you’re in serious trouble because you are your own harshest critic, constantly sabotaging yourself, and panicking over all the worst-case scenarios — known as catastrophizing — your ROI is in negative territory. You are putting forth effort and ending up much worse than when you started.
On days like that, staying in and watching romcom reruns while munching Doritos can be a win: the most base layer of retreating to the mountain cave to lick your wounds. You didn’t advance your cause, but at least you didn’t make things worse. Zero is three steps up from -3, and like being in a China shop or holding retractors during brain surgery, sometimes Do something, ANYthing! is way worse than just settling the heck down.
But in general, greater than zero is better
Quiet breathing and not-pushing-up-daisies can be a win. No worse off than yesterday is, as Keanu might say, Just COOL some days. Settle down, catch your breath, and turn your brain back on.
But whenever possible, try to multiply the ROI a little.
Doing just 1 new, improved thing is a definite win, a +1 add-on. Were I playing a D&D campaign, I’d take a +1 attack bonus in a heartbeat.
Some things are multipliers, for exponential improvements. And multipliers give you a bigger bang for your buck than addition, in arithmetic terms.
An hour breathing quietly in the backyard may be net-zero — but if it’s an hour you’re not berating yourself, it’s a definite, comparative win. Because otherwise it would have been a -3.
A habitual hour spent folding laundry and vacuuming can x2 the benefit: you’re not attacking yourself AND you’re cleaning up your home and mind, for a Marie Kondo win. But if it ALSO warms you up and mobilizes your hips and shoulders, it rises to an x3, advancing your bodywork. AND if your kids or grandkids learn from your direct example, it’s an x4.
One action, many benefits. Force multiplication is a great thing, and not that difficult to set up. It’s also another name for tools — force multipliers — that are a hallmark of thoughtful actors rather than instinctive herd animals.
Be kind to you and yours, this weekend and always.