There’s not much reason to leave your house these days, especially for a New Yorker like myself, living through a cold winter and longer winter nights.
This “new normal” is starting to feel like the regular normal. Many of us are spending a lot more time at home cozying up on the couch opting to spend our nights Netflix and chilling.
Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing binge-worthy series—”Queen’s Gambit,” anyone? But, doing it to excess leaves many of us dissatisfied and aching for more. Keeping my mental health strong despite the winter blues, quarantine, and being isolated at home alone with my cat has been challenging. Plus, there’s something about nightfall that evokes any inner demons to come out and play; keeping busy has been the antidote.
Here are some tips that have helped me.
- Write a letter to yourself.
Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or the start of a new week, we make commitments to ourselves: to eat healthier, read more, write more, learn an instrument, and so forth. But then, fatigue sets in, and inspiration dwindles. Plan for those humps in advance by writing a letter to yourself when you’re flying high. Express in your letter why this goal is important to you.
For instance, “Dear Alyssa, I know how tempting it is to eat a tub of ice cream when you’re feeling lonely. But, don’t forget that running a marathon is one of your life dreams. Keep at it! Stay in the game! You can do this!” Bottle that motivation by putting it in a letter to be read by your future self for when you encounter a hurdle and are tempted to give up.
- Set a game plan for the night.
There is little to be enjoyed more than a well-written and organized to-do list. While many of you may be rolling your eyes at me at this point, hear me out. To-do lists don’t only have to be for errands. You can write out a list of the activities you’d like to do for the night such as reading your latest book club selection, getting in 20 minutes of guitar practice, catching up on your favorite podcast, and even doing a handful of errands. That may sound like a lot, but that takes us into the next trick of the trade.
- Ten-minute increments.
Now that we’ve got a list of activities that we’d like to do for the evening, we can break it down even further. For any activity that is essentially time-bound rather than task-bound, set a timer. Paying a bill, taking out the trash, and washing the dishes are completed once the task is done. Knitting, meditation, or taking a bubble bath are generally as long or short as you decide to make them.
For the activities that are based on duration, rather than task-bound, set a timer for 10 or 15 or even 25 minutes—whichever works best for you. Do the activity until the timer dings and move on to the next thing. (Don’t forget to cross the item off your list, which, if you’re like me, is thoroughly rewarding in and of itself!)
The goal is not to complete the task but to engage in it for the pre-set amount of time. By breaking up our night into micro-increments, it makes larger tasks seem more manageable and bypasses any tendencies toward procrastination and perfectionism.
- Getting started.
Turning off the TV to switch tasks takes effort. It can be difficult to pull ourselves away from the lure of that next episode and transition from one activity to another, even if it just means getting off the couch to grab a pen and paper to journal.
This is where the concept of behavioral activation (from cognitive behavior therapy) can help. Generally, behavioral activation is used to treat depression by scheduling and moving toward increasing the amount of time that we spend on activities that are pleasant and elicit a sense of mastery.
When practicing this type of therapeutic intervention, we don’t wait until we feel like doing something. But rather, we take the action first, banking on the fact that the positive emotions will come later. We over-ride a sense of malaise through action. In other words, we fake it ’till we make it.
Also beneficial, in conjunction with behavioral activation, is the closely related Mel Robbins’ 5-second rule: “The 5 Second Rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it. The moment you feel an instinct or a desire to act on a goal or a commitment, use the Rule.” To nail in the point—write out an agenda in advance, and then take action immediately.
- Reward yourself.
Lastly, celebrate yourself for doing something awesome. Take a moment, pause, and applaud yourself for being intentional with your time and putting in the work to spend your nights more mindfully. Whether it’s buying yourself a bouquet of flowers or a single rose, do something to bring a smile to your face and gladness to your heart. You deserve it!