Has this ever happened to you?
You start a new project with the intention to work on yourself, to connect more deeply to your soul and the universe, to change some old ways of thinking that aren’t working for you anymore, or just to take more time for yourself.
Maybe it’s a meditation practice or writing in your journal every day. Maybe it’s reading a chapter of a self-discovery book or even an online course on self-improvement. The first week goes great. You feel calmer and clearer, like you’ve really got it this time.
You decide it’s going to be something you do every day. Then around day seven or eight, daily life gets in the way. Maybe you wake up late, maybe you feel sick, or maybe you just have a busy day. And so, you write it down on your to-do list for later, and inevitably it goes to the bottom of the list.
When you get home late that night, you’re too tired to do it, and so you put it off for the next day, and then the next. And suddenly, this thing that seemed to make you feel so calm and free for a few days is just another thing to get done each day—adding to your feelings of being stressed, overwhelmed, and never having enough time to get all “your stuff” done in one day. Suddenly, your soul work has become just another thing on your to-do list.
It’s easy to let this happen. I’ve heard it takes at least three weeks to start a new habit, and we tend to place more value on things like getting work done, cleaning the house, catching up on emails and phone calls, and other actions that give us immediate results—results we can see more than those we do when working on ourselves.
We start thinking that these things are more important than doing our soul work every day. And by soul work I mean doing something that brings you closer to your heart, your intuition, and that makes you feel those deep, intrinsic feelings we all have that make us feel alive. Those feelings that make us feel we are connected to ourselves, to others, and to something much bigger than ourselves. Those feelings that help us know that our life has purpose and meaning, and that it all somehow makes sense.
When the soul-nourishing stuff we do suddenly becomes soul-sucking, we need to take a step back and look at those feelings—and instead of just giving up, we must ask ourselves how we can get back on track.
This has happened to me more than once. I made a commitment to meditate every day, and then find myself just thinking about what I have to get done during my entire meditation. So much mind chatter. Or, I’ve committed to write every day, but when I try to sit down and write, there is no space for me to tap into my inner voice, because my head is too crowded with noise—and instead of being in a place of emptiness where I can tap into something deeper in myself, I’m simply but fully in my head.
Each time this has happened, I had to stop and see how my need for feeling busy, accomplished, and consistent were getting in my way. My need for perfection was once again rearing its ugly head and saying that if I didn’t do my soul work every single day, then it just wasn’t good enough. I was telling myself that it either had to be every day or not at all.
It’s easier to just stay busy and to fill our days with doing instead of feeling, but ultimately, this is not what brings us joy. We end up being too busy to stop and notice the little things. Too busy to be in that space of gratitude for everything we have. So busy that we start to feel disconnected and alone.
I found that these questions helped me put things back in perspective and get right back on track with my soul work. What is good enough? And what is truly important to me? What are the intrinsic feelings unique to me that bring me alive? And where are the places I really need to spend my time to experience these feelings of aliveness, joy, and connection?
Ask these questions to your body, your heart, and your gut—and to that part of you that physically gives you feedback, not to your head and your conscience, not to the part of you that wants to put everything in neat little boxes and categorize what is supposed to be important and what isn’t.
I found that “good enough” had to exist in the present moment, not in the future. I knew that spending time in nature and creating were truly important to me. And for me, these core feelings are freedom, love, connection, and gratitude. For you, they might be completely different. But I know that getting work done—cleaning the house and responding to emails and phone calls—does not make me feel any of these things. When I’m doing things for my soul, like meditating, writing, creating, and spending time out in nature or with friends, I feel nourished and alive.
I decided that I didn’t have to be so rigid. I set up a framework for possibility and decided that instead of making my soul work be about more “things to do” I was going to make it all about ways to feel. No more lists, no more things to do, no more numbers. I decided that all I needed to do every day was to choose something that made me feel those intrinsic feelings and to go after it in a way that created these feelings. This changed the goal of my soul work to be about something much more spiritual, not just about doing the things to get there.
Once I did this, my shoulders softened, my jaw relaxed, and already, I felt more free. I have heard the saying, “The journey is the destination,” and it’s so true. I began to move toward my soul work with more self-awareness, presence, and trust. I decided to make my soul work beautiful because beauty brings me into a state of joy and grace.
This allowed me to consider all sorts of different things “soul work.” One day, it might be taking a walk at sunset or taking a bath with candles. Another day, it could be putting down my phone and enjoying some silence, solitude, and a cup of tea. And another day, it could be meditating or reading a book of poems or writing. By allowing myself the freedom to set my own parameters, and focusing on the feeling instead of the activity, I discovered so many new ways to feed my soul and connect with myself.
And so, I encourage you—next time you find yourself in this place, where working on yourself becomes just another thing to get done, or just another thing to cross off your to-do list, take a look at these feelings that inspire you and awaken you to life, and look at the activities that bring you to this place. Consider letting go of the idea that there is only one way to get there. You may surprise yourself, and you will surely feel more joy and less obligation. You will feel your shoulders softly drop away from your ears, the muscles in your face relax, and maybe even notice that you are smiling.
Author: Melissa Snow
Image: Eat Pray Love still
Editor: Travis May