How to Take a Break

I’m not good at taking breaks. I’m good at getting really exhausted and then checking social media, but that is the worst way to take breaks.

My friend Amy recently told me that she doesn’t let her car get under a half tank. She wants to be prepared. And then she said, “Why can’t we do that for ourselves?” If we can manage to keep our vehicles full of fuel, we can also work to keep ourselves fueled and ready to go.

Which means we need to take breaks. And not breaks when we’ve become exhausted and empty–instead, we need breaks when we’re half-empty, before we’re exhausted.

But some breaks that I take are just horrible: Checking social media. Looking at the news and pandemic trends. Watching YouTube videos. Staring mindlessly at a computer screen is not a good break: it doesn’t replenish me and makes me feel more drained.

Here are some ideas on how to take a real break that can actually give our minds and bodies the rest we need and invigorate us to keep going:

  • Exercise.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Go outside.
  • Read a book.
  • Talk to a friend.
  • Play with a child.
  • Do a small act of service.
  • Say a prayer.
  • Sit in silence.
  • Meditate.
  • Say something you’re grateful for.
  • Eat a snack. Preferably a somewhat healthy one.
  • Drink some water.
  • Clean up. Even doing a tiny bit can help.
  • Sit there and do nothing (but don’t look at a screen).

Sometimes taking a break is difficult. I have a hard time changing my focus and I want to just get stuff done. But it’s not efficient to get stuff done by working and working until I’m overly exhausted and I can’t do anything else.

I’m going to keep working on taking breaks–the right sort of breaks that will help me feel happier, energized, and live the life I want to live.

Possibilities and Planning

I want a five year plan. I keep on rethinking the directions I’m heading and want to feel a little bit more stable about my options for the future.

But I know that this plan isn’t going to be linear and clear. Life turns out a lot different than I expect it to. Five years ago, I had little idea of where I would be right now. I just graduated with an economics degree and now I have a part-time job working for FamilySearch doing image audits. I have four kids who take up most of my time and attention. I’m writing a book.

I don’t know where I will be in five years (possibly in the exact same place, but I really hope I’m sitting on a different couch). But I do know that there are a few different options that I want to pursue.

So instead of a five-year plan that looks like this:

I want a five-year plan that looks like this:

A plan doesn’t need to tell me exactly what I want to do. Instead, a plan gives me guidance on which opportunities I want to pursue. And then some of those opportunities will work out and be the right fit, and some of them won’t be.

Technology: Pushing it out of your life

Like most people in the world today, sometimes I waste too much time on social media and other websites. They are designed be addictive, after all, and rabbit holes are encouraged in the never-ending display of suggested content.

But when I focus on getting rid of that wasted time, I usually fail. I have created some better habits. On my phone, for example, I don’t have any social media apps. I’ve also removed email and my web browser. The only notifications I have are for texts and calls. I also unfollow people, try to have screen-free time, have a blocking program on my computer (FocusMe), and use one site (AllSides.com) to check on news.

All those things aren’t enough. I still waste time on my computer and phone–it’s not a personal weakness as much as simply a really difficult problem.

But here is the one thing that has worked the very best: crowding out wasted time with doing good things. When I have free time, technology sucks it up like a vacuum. But when I have lots to do, technology gets pushed out of my life in favor of better things.

This week was very busy. I had to work on painting my house to get ready for winter and I had two papers to write for my classes in school. It’s also Halloween and I worked to spend time with my kids. When I planned to do many good things, I didn’t have time to waste.

Good habits are better formed by crowding out the bad habits in favor of something better. Focusing on my negative technology use and trying to eliminate it is focusing on the wrong thing–I should instead look at what that technology is preventing me from doing, and work on increasing good works in my life.

I want to read books and write and play games with my family and learn new things and serve others. When I plan for that in my life, my technology habits take care of themselves.

Friendship

Option 1: Abigail is living her life. She has her routine: wake up, get ready, work, spend time with her family, read a book, go to bed. She has the occasional events with church and work and community and life. She lives in her own little sphere, and it’s pretty happy there. A bit lonely, but she has her routine that she keeps doing over and over again, so it’s okay. Social media and videos help with the loneliness. And if she gets feeling down, she does something special like taking herself out to dinner and travelling to see something new.

And then one day, Barbara knocks on her door at 7:00 in the morning. She brings Abigail breakfast with orange juice. It’s weird, but Abigail likes orange juice. Abigail isn’t sure what to say. And Barbara isn’t sure what to say either, but they exist there together eating toast, until they both resume their routine and go to work. Abigail is late, but she finds that she is happier than normal.

In the evening, Abigail texts Barbara and tells her thank you and that they should get together sometime. Abigail doesn’t expect a response, but Barbara says, “How about we go to lunch on Saturday?”

And so Abigail ends up having sushi with Barbara, and while she is there, Barbara offers to babysit her kids so that Abigail can have a date night with her husband next Friday night at 6:30.

But Abigail feels confused. She had been living happily in her sphere and no one bothered her, but here is Barbara, inserting herself into Abigail’s life and she feels like she finally has a friend.

Barbara comes and babysits on Friday. And then Abigail decides she is going to text Barbara something a few days later, though this feels a little awkward and weird. “Hey–do you want to go have lunch again tomorrow?” And she nervously clicks send.

“Sure! That’s sounds awesome!”

And so it continues. Abigail finds out that Barbara has lots of other friends, and then Abigail get lots of other friends, and then she don’t exist in her own little sphere at all. She doesn’t feel lonely very much anymore.

Option 2: Barbara thinks it is too awkward to bring someone over breakfast first thing in the morning, and so she stays home and sends the occasional text message but never feels like she has any friends.

Friendship is not about giving people space. It’s not about waiting for convenient times and it does not take place on the internet. Being a friend is when you insert yourself into someone’s life and you both end up happier because of it. It can be awkward. There are missteps and confusion. You do things wrong a lot, but that’s okay. You can’t keep waiting for an invitation. Friendship doesn’t wait for an invitation. Friendship is the invitation, and it comes from you.

 

Hypocrisy

I was angry with my husband the other day. I really sort of wanted to be angry at him. It didn’t last long, because as I was talking, I realized I was being a complete hypocrite.

I was doing EXACTLY what I was mad at him for doing. I was holding grudges. I was not forgiving. I was picking fights. I was being distant and distracted. And I wanted to blame it on him, but it was totally and completely my fault.

In fact, when I think about it, I often try to blame my own faults on other people. Like thinking that no one invites me anywhere when I don’t invite anyone either. Or thinking that everyone else is cranky, which is a sure sign that I am the cranky one. Whenever I feel tired, it’s okay if I don’t do as much. But if someone else is tired, I get can sometimes get mad at them for being tired. It’s ridiculous.

But it doesn’t seem ridiculous in the moment. Only when I take a step back do I realize that I am being a hypocrite, and I am putting different expectations on others than I am on myself.

I think I hate the faults of others the most when they reflect my own faults. I don’t want to admit my own weakness and so it’s a lot easier to just push the blame elsewhere. But I do have a lot of faults. I’m selfish and proud and distracted and lazy. I stay inside my comfort zone too often and I expect too much from others.

So I’m going to try to be a little bit more humble and try to keep improving my own self instead of blaming the problems of my life on others. It’s hard. But it’s good too: if things are my fault, that means I can fix them.

Recent life hacks

Rituals are really helpful in order to express love. We love our children and our spouse and our family, but often we just think expressions of love will happen naturally and spontaneously. They don’t. We have to plan it a bit.

Love means that we always kiss each other good night. Or that we tuck kids into bed and sing them a song. Or we call our moms every Wednesday. Or that we make take time to wrestle every day at 4:00. Or we cuddle every evening. Or we end conversations with, “I love you.”

Everyone wants something dependable and safe, and creating rituals of love can be so helpful in feeling more loved and showing that love more often.

***

Two days ago, I watched a video on YouTube by Jordan Page about a block schedule productivity system. I’m always looking for better ways to manage my life, and this one wasn’t entirely unique, but yet it was just what I needed at the time.

She basically separates her days into a few large blocks, with a timer on the phone to tell her when it’s the next block. I really liked it because instead of using lots of small blocks of time, it was a few big blocks of time, generally categorized but flexible and not too specific. And it was pretty much what I was already doing, but just a slight improvement on it.

For me, I came up with the following blocks:

  • Morning (6-9). Wake-up, scriptures, prayers, mental health, exercise, family scripture study, breakfast, showers, kids ready, cleaning, home projects.
  • Learning (9-12). Homeschool and playing with kids.
  • Lunch (12-1). Lunch and clean up.
  • Projects (1-3). The kids watch movies or play. I work on school, blogging, and other projects.
  • Family/errands (3-5). Time to play outside, go and do things, etc.
  • Dinner (5-7). Dinner, clean up, and whatever.
  • Bed time (7-8). Tubs, stories, bed.
  • Evening (8-10). I catch up on projects and spend time with my husband.
  • Sleep (10-6).

It’s pretty easy. What was super helpful to me was I organizing my to-do list by block. It sort of just made things fall into place more. Instead of thinking what I needed to get done, I was planning on when I was doing it and then not worrying quite as much.

 

Put yourself out there

When I started learning more about economics, I ended up adding some economic blogs into my feed reader. One of them was The Enlightened Economics, by Diane Coyle. She mainly does book reviews, and a lot of her posts were very interesting to me. But I am new to the subject, and I wanted recommendations so I could have a starting point of interesting books, particularly related to economics and philosophy. They don’t teach that sort of thing very often in undergraduate classes.

So I wrote an email and I asked.

I could have talked myself out of doing that very easily, because I am a lowly undergraduate and she is a busy professional. Sometimes I get scared to actually write something that I know someone else will read and respond to. But I did it anyway.

She answered. And then there was a Twitter post (I don’t really do Twitter, but there were 58 comments on it, and retweets as well). And a blog post, with comments on the blog post, and a fairly long list of around 50 books at the end of it. I will probably never read all the books on that list, but I will read some (they are on request from my school’s library).

Not only am I grateful for that list, but it is also helpful for other people who are interested in the same thing. They exist. I haven’t met those other people yet, but maybe one day I will.

I am really glad I asked. So many times we talk ourselves out of asking the questions and sticking ourselves out there. Even if people are somewhat famous and successful, they still often will help others, and do it gladly.

It’s good to just apply. Send an email. Call someone. I have had plenty of rejection and some embarrassment, but sometimes it works out really well.

Praise

I have never been praised for my singing voice, except for some mild positive comments. I view this as an entirely good thing.

You see, when we get praised for something, particularly when we are young, we may start to build up our self-imagine around that thing. It becomes part of who we are. But the thing is, we may not actually be particularly good at it in another setting. And we usually always have room for improvement.

When we get praised, we often will start to build our ego and self-worth around that thing. This is dangerous, because our self-worth shouldn’t really be based in what we do; it’s just who we are, and it is still there even when we can’t do something anymore, or we can’t do it as well as we thought.

We shouldn’t stop praising people, but we need to be careful with our children and praise in the right way. So that they know they have self-worth even if they realize later on that there are millions of people who are smarter than them, and stronger than them, and better than them at doing certain things.

Instead of saying, “You sing really well,” try, “I love to hear you sing.”

Instead of saying, “You are really smart,” say something like, “I really am proud of how hard you have worked in school.”

Sometimes we do things whether we are good at it or not–we do it because we enjoy it. And that’s much better way to be, doing things independent of whether we are better than someone else, doing something because it feels right, instead of doing something to inflate our ego and make us feel better about ourselves.

And stop praising yourself too–you don’t have to BE a good writer or a good singer or good at anything. You just exist. You DO. And that’s enough.

(Written January 2018)

Experience is worth more than accomplishment

Every day, week, month, and year, I have constantly made lists of things I wanted to accomplish. But today I wondered if my focus has been in the wrong place.

Today, my kids wanted to get sledding on mostly melted snow. It wasn’t on my to-do list, but it sure was fun. The snow was hard and crispy and the sleds slid over it easily, so we actually went far, sliding over spots of dead grass and old snow without stopping. We didn’t last long before my little daughter got snow on her hand and cried and wanted to come inside. We came in, cuddled on the couch, and she fell asleep.

I didn’t accomplish anything by doing this. I didn’t check anything off my to-do list. But it was a really good experience. It was not only fun, but it was good time spent with my kids.

I want to value experiences more than my accomplishments.

Learning something is more important than getting a degree. Spending time with my children is more important than cleaning up my house. Serving others and developing relationships is much better than making a lot of money or having a good resume. And I can have wonderful adventures without leaving my backyard.

I need to readjust my life a little bit so that I am valuing those things instead of completely focused on being productive or achieving certain goals or having everything in order. Life is messy and fun and meaningful and beautiful–but I don’t notice when I am focused on the pages of a planner or the marks of a to-do list.

kids sledding

Praise

From a young age, I have been involved in numerous choirs. I like to sing, but I haven’t had a lot of praise or criticism related to my ability to sing. I’ve some mildly positive comments, but that’s about it.

I am grateful for this. First, I’m not a great singer in the first place. But I’m also not a bad singer. So when I sing, I’m not worried about whether I’m doing it well or not. I’m just singing because I like to.

There are other aspects in my life where I have been much more sensitive to any praise or criticism that has come may way. I built my self-image around being good at academics or writing. The things I received the most praise about became part of who I am. And that wasn’t really a good thing.

Because no matter how good I am, there are always so many people who are better than me. I always have room for improvement. Sometimes, I’m not quite as good as I think I am–I have failed miserably at things that someone once praised me for.

I should never do things just to get praise. Who I am is different from what I do.

If I never received grades throughout school, I would probably be a different person. I would have a different, more resilient view of myself. I might be more willing to ask questions and admit what I don’t know. I would have learned more quickly to seek after learning for the sake of learning, not just to receive top marks.

Praise often does not lead to resiliency. It can lead to increased pressure and an inflated ego. Our self-worth needs to be based on who we are, not just what we can do in comparison to other people.

That doesn’t mean we stop praising people all together. But we need to be careful about the praise we hand out. Instead of saying, “You sing really well,” we can try, “I love to hear you sing.” Instead of saying, “You are really smart,” we might say, “I really am proud of how hard you have worked in school.” I am working on this with my children, but it’s hard, and I often shift back into the easier way of talking about things.

Sometimes we do things whether we are good at it or not–we do it because we enjoy it. In my experience, I find a lot more fulfillment and joy when I do things not because I’m good at them, but because I want to do something for its own sake. I learn to learn. I write to write. I like when I am focused on the work I am doing, instead of focused on myself and my reputation.

I am slowly trying to stop praising myself. I don’t have to be a good writer or a good singer or good at anything. I can just be me, and I can do those things and love them and that’s enough.