We’re in the heart of summer, and as a teacher, this means I have a lot more time than usual to reflect on, well, everything, but especially on life and the way I’m living it. In summer, it’s tempting to indulge in the many hours without somewhere to be, something to do. And soon, it’s more than hours. It’s indulgence in entire days, weeks, maybe even months, until they’re gone and the hectic school year is back again. The days are chaotic, busy, and the attempt is merely to survive to tomorrow. Eventually the school year has passed once more and in its place: summer, the chance to finally take back time, but again, indulgence is tricky. When does a few hours of rest turn into days, weeks, months of valuable time lost? How can the school or work year become time well spent without burn out or stress? Where is the balance?
These are the questions I’ve been asking myself because I know there is a better way to live than watching time pass by when it’s slow and just trying not to get trampled by it when it’s fast. I think I’ve figured out a way to avoid over-indulgence in any one thing, allow for a little of everything our bodies, minds, and souls need every day, and to maximize the time given to us for our best lives possible. I think of it as a compass for my life. With any activity I do, if it fits into one of these four categories, then it’s something good for me that aligns with my values and purpose. If it doesn’t fit any of them, then I’ve lost direction. This promotes accountability and intention with every action and prevents wasted time. And, by doing at least one thing from each category a day, it also ensures balance and prevents burn out and over-indulgence.
These guidelines don’t have to work for you, but I thought I would share what I’m attempting to be happier and more pleased with how I’m spending my time in case it might help someone else. Essentially, when I’m about to do something, I just ask myself if it fits into one of these four things:
- Filling up – taking care of myself is first priority, simply because we can’t give if we’re empty, and if we don’t take care to fill ourselves up, then we won’t feel very good or motivated to live the way we want to. We can’t grow if our most basic needs aren’t being met. It’s also much harder to serve and know our purpose if we’re running on empty. I consider this a physical as well as mental and spiritual category. When I show my body love, I feel better and more loving. When I tend to my mind and my heart, I feel more whole and more capable of connecting to others. Self love looks different for everyone, but some of my favorite ways to fill up are reading, podcasts, meditation, and face masks.
- Giving back – the best things we can do are for other people. We are this big human collective and we thrive on relationship and connection. Letting go of ourselves and showing up for others is so important and also ironically one of the best things we can do for ourselves. It helps us feel more fulfilled, helps us empathize with other people (and with people who may be very different than us), and it helps create stronger community and connection in our world. Think of how beautiful the world could be if everyone was encouraged to boldly be their unique self, if everyone was thoughtful and generous with other people, and if people used their lives to contribute something beautiful for each other. That’s my ideal. But in a more tangible sense, giving back helps us step into our purpose, make the world a better place, help people, and bonus, it sends good feelings and good things back to us. I think it’s important to do some form of this every day, in whatever way is best for you.
- Doing things that are good for me – this is different from filling up because these things may not always feel fulfilling at first. Sometimes they may seem like challenging or even boring work, but that doesn’t mean they’re not beneficial and helping create the life I want to experience. In my personal regimen, this means practicing Spanish, reading informational texts on improving my craft, working out, and cooking. These can be difficult sometimes, but they all add value to my life and convert time I might be wasting to time spent cultivating a deep, fulfilling happiness I will reap in the future. I love this guideline for daily actions because it encompasses so much and makes sure each thing is beneficial. For example, this might mean playing a video game to strengthen my mind or watching a movie to relax and rest. It covers what I need at any given moment and keeps me from doing things in excess because I know when something shifts from being good for me to over-indulgence. This just keeps me accountable because moderation and intention are key in everything.
- Being productive – this one seems fairly obvious. It includes all of the things we may not always want to do like studying, cleaning, working, and all of the little things that tend to add up like emails. I think the best way to handle this stuff is by addressing it as soon as it pops up rather than putting it off for later because, if unattended, these things can sit in the mind and contribute to stress whether we realize it or not. But, if we don’t or can’t deal with these things right away, then I would suggest doing at least one productive thing each day. Again, this helps promote balance and keep us on top of things.
I truly think that filling each day with a little of each of these categories is a really safe and healthy way to live. By doing each kind of activity every day, balance is encouraged and burnout from doing too much of any one thing can be avoided. Plus, we make the most of our time doing things that we enjoy or that make us better people. As you go about your day, you can simply ask yourself, is this filling me up, giving back, good for me, or productive? In that way, this can act as a guide. If you decide to try this, don’t be upset if you’re not always perfect. Just get back up and keep going.
Forever on your side.