The holiday season is upon us, which means that for many of us, our schedules are jam-packed with social occasion, shopping and other holiday preparations. Take this week for example. Tonight I am babysitting nephews, tomorrow night I am hosting my friends and their kids for our annual Gingerbread decorating party, Wednesday night I have my work holiday party, and then on Thursday I fly to Chicago to attend the Chicago holiday party. I'm staying in Chicago until Saturday so that I can spend some time in the office on Friday and hopefully meet my friend Nilsa for a post-work coffee on Friday afternoon, and then I will head out to my brother's, who lives about an hour outside of Chicago, so I can spend some time with them and celebrate an early Christmas with my niece and nephew. I fly back on Saturday evening so that I can spend some time with Phil on Sunday and do things like grocery shopping, meal prep, and laundry.
Here's the thing. My week is filled with things I want to do, but some weeks my days are filled with things I feel I should do. And I've come to realize that sometimes when I say yes to too many things in a week, the things I wanted to do when I say yes start to feel like things I have to do or should do, and I struggle to live in the moment and enjoy the things I've committed to doing. I realize this is a total first world problem, but I've been over-filling my schedule for months upon months (or really for years). Instead of talking about how I really should find a way to plan less, lately I have felt motivated to shift from talking about it to doing something about it.
If you ask Phil, he'll tell you that these days I will commonly start a conversation by saying, "So I was listening to this podcast and..." But it applies to my current conundrum. Earlier this year, I was listening to the episode of Death, Sex and Money where Anna Sale interviews the actress Ellen Burstyn. I embedded the podcast below for those who are interested in listening to it (which I highly recommend as it's filled with all sorts of wisdom). One particular part of the podcast that stuck with me was Ellen Burstyn's explanation of "shouldless" days. Rather than trying to paraphrase what she said, here is Ellen's explanation of what she means by "shouldless" days.
"I’m very lazy. I have what I called should-less days. Today is a day
where there’s nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And
if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV, and eat ice cream, I get to do
it … Should-less days, I recommend them. Because, what I figured out is
we have wiring. I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy, if I’m
not doing something. God you’re so lazy—can’t imagine whose voice that
is? And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But
what I can do is I can put in another wiring, I can put in should-less
days, so when that voice goes off and says you’re being lazy, I turn to
the other wiring in my brain that says, no, this is a should-less day,
and I’m doing what I want."
This is something that I really want to try to implement into my life because I struggle with feelings of guilt when I have a "lazy" day and I want to try work on reversing the hard wiring in my brain that tells me that I should always be doing something. Because the reality is that we live in a world that absolutely glorifies the idea of being busy. Think about how many times a day or week you hear someone talk about how busy they are. Don't get me wrong - I think it is great to fill our lives with things that we enjoy doing and 80% of the time, that's the kind of life I want to live. But the other 20% of the time when I feel overwhelmed and exhausted, I want to be able to give myself the gift of a "shouldless" and commitment-free day without feeling guilty or feeling that I am being lazy.
So if the extremely successful actress Ellen Burnstyn can do this, so can I. And so can you. For me, "shouldless" days will be filled with things like reading in a local coffee shop, listening to podcasts, going for a walk in my neighborhood, attending a yoga class, or watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. For me, "shouldless" days will likely contain mostly solo activities as I am an introvert that needs her alone time to recharge my battery, but "shouldless" days may look completely different for someone else.
As we move into a new year, I'll be setting some goals as I always do, and one of those goals will center around "shouldless" days. Hopefully by putting some structure around having a goal of carving out more time for myself, I'll get better at naturally doing it and not feel guilty about it.
Do you struggle with over-planning and over-committing? If not, do you have any suggestions for someone like me who struggles to say no to things?