I had a bunch of cats growing up. They were all outdoor cats and suffered short lives. It was tragic, but there was nothing I could do to provide or care for them as a kid. It broke my heart, but I loved having them. They were my favorite animal. I had all kinds of toys and stuffed animals that were cats. I was pretty easy to buy for as a kid.
When I became an adult, I always wanted to get a pet, but for various reasons I put it off and didn’t get one.
Until last year.
I got Carmella when she was about 12 weeks old.
She challenged me a lot with her hyperactive behavior, vocal personality, and curiosity (which led to some destructive behavior both then and now). But she was also a lot of fun, and she made me happy.
I didn’t realize how much she helped my mental health though. Here’s how she helped me, and I think this could be said of any pets!
The obvious reason to get a pet is that you want a buddy! My cat has definitely made bad days better, and helped put a smile on my face when I hadn’t smiled all day. It’s great to have someone there to greet you every day, happy to see you, and ready to curl up with you at any moment. Her purrs of contentment when I’m giving her affection or holding her make my heart soar, and it can melt even the hardest of hearts. When I’m having bad days or even slipping back into depression, she’s there to pick up my spirits just a little and remind me I’m not alone.
Pets give you a sense of responsibility
Having to take care of something or someone else forces you to rise to the occasion. It’s not for your sake that you do it, but for theirs.
Having this responsibility is good for your mental health because it helps you from falling into a rut or withdrawing completely from civilization. I know when I’m feeling like isolating from everyone or I’m starting to feel bad about myself or my life, I will neglect household chores, I will ignore everyone, I will let it all go to hell. But having Carmella breaks me out of that cycle.
A pet gives you a purpose when you feel you don’t have one. I might be feeling hopeless or lost when it comes to my career or life’s direction, but I know for sure Carmella needs to be fed and given plenty of attention and routine checkups. I know I can’t leave her alone for too long because she’s a living creature who needs care! Responsibility is something that gives me a sense of duty and helps me keep going on days I don’t want to keep going.
Pets provide you with a routine
Routine is essential for mental health care. Your own personal treatment and self-care are important, but general routines for your day and your home are equally important. I find that having a routine with my chores and household tasks also helps me stave off depression, restless and empty feelings, or just general ickiness and muck that I tend to fall into sometimes.
With a pet, not only do you have a sense of responsibility in caring for this creature, but you create a routine with them. I feed Carmella at specific times of the day. I play with her at various points in the evening, especially right before bed. I make sure to give her plenty of attention. I take her out to the porch frequently. We do this on the weekend, too. It like having the stability of this routine throughout the week.
I’d love to see pictures of your pets! Do you think they help with your mental health?
I feel honored to be nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by someone I admire in the blogging world, Gemma Newbery. She’s the writer and founder of the blog Help Me, I’m Adulting. It’s a fantastic and fun blog, definitely check her out. My favorite post (so far!) is 4 Easy Ways of Finding Forgotten Money.
The Sunshine Blogging Award is an opportunity for bloggers to nominate fellow bloggers for their work. It’s also a fun way to spread positivity (and each others’ blogs)!
Rules For The Sunshine Blogger Award
Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
List the sunshine blogger award rules and display its logo on your site
Answer the sunshine blogger award questions given by the other person who nominated you.
Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions
Notify the nominees about their nominations
1. How long have you been blogging for?
I started my first blog probably in 2012, though I did it as a complete amateur. Silly, satirical things, like “how to get a date”, but it was the dumbest, most goofy things because I thought those types of articles were stupid. I started the Unplug Initiative in 2014. Just a few months ago, I decided to buckle down and buy a domain name, and now have been considering how to gain more traffic. I’m excited for what’s to come 🙂
2. What or who inspires your writing?
The desire to help people. Yes, it’s fun to write. Yes, I’m glad to share it with my social media friends. But it’s not just a way to say “look at me, I’m writing!”. I genuinely want to help people with their mental health, with their productivity, with their feelings of being lost or in a rut. I know about all these things, and I don’t claim to be some guru. I just want to help inspire and encourage along the way, using my own experience, compassion, and resources.
3. If you could recommend a book to everyone, what would it be?
A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan. It’s a psychological and philosophical thriller. A pretty interesting and unique book that will make you think long after you’ve finished it.
4. Do you have any hobbies?
Besides writing, I enjoy video games, music, and reading. That’s super generic, but it’s true! Writing takes up a lot of my time though.
5. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
6. If you could visit anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
7. If you could spend the day in any decade, which one would you choose and why?
The 70s. I feel like a lot of great music happened that decade. It would be a fun time to be alive and witness that music live. Plus all the fun experimentation, under the guise of peace and love and happiness, when they were just all really high. :P8
8. Have you ever met someone famous?
A bunch of country singers. It’s not like I hung out with them or introduced myself. I “met” them all while working in retail. I checked them out at the register or made them a coffee. I’ve also worked security at a store where I saw Liam Hemsworth shopping. I didn’t interact with him whatsoever, but I was in the same area as him for awhile haha.
9. What TV shows are you into at the moment?
I finished Bojack Horseman a few weeks ago. I can’t recommend that enough. It’s such a raw, honest, shocking real and touching account of depression and addiction. It’s witty and clever, but it will break your heart and make you cry.
10. Favourite food?
Fettuccine Alfredo, macaroni and cheese, spinach and mushroom alfredo pizza
11. Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?
Oh, wow. I think the horse-sized duck. As terrifying as that sounds, at least they don’t have as powerful of legs as a horse does. I feel like a bunch of smaller horses would still be horrible because they’d be pretty strong. Plus 100 of anything doesn’t sound like a fair fight. I’ll take my chances against one giant duck!
Questions for my nominees:
Who is a personal hero to you?
If you could be one animal for a day, what would you choose?
What’s your favorite blog post that you’ve written?
Why did you choose your blog name?
If you and I were to hang out for a day, what would you want to do?
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
What is an underrated song or artist that you want to call more people’s attention to?
If you had to pick a favorite song, what would it be? If you can’t, what are a few that come to mind?
Do you write for a living? If so, do you just make money off your blog, or do you do other writing? If not your blog, how else does writing earn you an income?
How long have you wanted to be a writer?
Do you play any instruments? If not, what would you love to learn how to play?
I don’t think anyone alive is some workhorse of productivity. We all get tired. We all struggle to keep chugging along. When important tasks lie in waiting, desperate for a checkmark on the proverbial to-do list, we are the ones who take up said task and promptly…find a way to procrastinate.
I think I’m someone who focuses fairly easy and likes to just dive right in and get stuff done.
There are ton of articles that will tell you how to beat procrastination or how to focus better, but I’m here to condense that into the one single tip that truly works for me.
Are you ready for my gold-star trick that I use to stop procrastinating? Because it’s really academic and involved, so I need you to pay attention. Here it is:
I take a lot of breaks.
I’m not kidding. You can get yourself in the mood all day to work. You can visualize the way to attack a project. You can do outlines. You can do all the pre-work and pre-thinking you want.
But when it comes right down to it, you have to actually do the work to get it done.
So that’s what I do. I dive right in and just get started. As soon as I feel overwhelmed, confused, or irritated, I take a short break. I usually take the first one pretty soon. Between 5-10 minutes in, to be honest.
Then, I come back, and I work on my project or task some more. I work longer this time though. Once that wave of overwhelm hits me again, I take another break.
I work the whole way through like this.
How Does This Help You Stop Procrastinating if You’re Always Taking Breaks?
Good question, dear reader!
The idea here is not to force yourself to work some set amount of time, but to overcome the awful, gut-wrenching dread and anxiety of procrastination. Knowing you have small breaks, and that you can theoretically take them whenever, can be a huge motivator!
The trick is to know how many breaks you can actually take and how long they can be. You know your deadline, you know your favorite time-wasters, and you know how long it’ll take before you’ve completely abandoned your project in favor of Netflix.
When I’m just starting out on a project, a break of about 10 minutes is just right. Sometimes 15 or 20, depending on how long I’ve worked. But that’s only for the beginning stages.
I also know that I need to stay away from social media, and either do some light exercise or meditation, or a few short, funny, and lighthearted videos on YouTube. Anything else completely sucks me in or drains my energy and any positive mood I had going.
Once I return to work, I eventually get into a groove and I don’t feel I need another break for awhile. You know that sweet spot where you’re really into what you’re doing and you have some momentum. I try to work a little longer when I’m feeling like this. Subsequently, I give myself a bit longer of a break when I need it.
Whether it’s assembling a piece of furniture with a 106 parts, writing a 10-page essay, or doing a massive cleaning and re-organization of my apartment, I find this one tip to be useful for all my fiercest procrastination.
The dread and fear I feel is nothing compared to the awesome feeling of just getting started. Even if I don’t stay “started” for very long. It’s like putting your foot in the pool before jumping in, or doing calisthenics before a full workout, or just taking a single bite of your food before getting to sit down and enjoy the full thing: it’s a preview of what’s to come and it gets you in the mindset for what you’re about to do.
I find that it eliminates a lot of negative feelings just to get started, even if I don’t make any super meaningful progress. Getting started is often half the battle. Procrastination is an ugly fighter, but you can fight smarter.
The trick only works if you come back after the short break and keep going. It’s essential to give your mind a break, especially the more taxing the project is, but it requires the self-discipline to go back.
If You Are Having Trouble Getting Started
If self-discipline is not your strong suit, consider setting a timer for your breaks, or giving yourself a reward for going back to work (that seems counterproductive, but make it something that you can do while working), or even an app that will lock your “time-wasting” apps for a certain period of time.
To reiterate what I said earlier, you have to know your limits and your weakness. Avoid those and focus on your strengths. What would give you an enjoyable, restful break? But that will ultimately not completely distract you from your project, like a video game or a TV show. Save that for a bigger break or when you’re completely done!
My favorite trick though is cheating.
I cheat my brain into thinking I’m being more productive than I am.
For example, let’s say I’m writing an essay for college. I would pull up my document, set all my fonts, and head my paper, as well as writing a title. I’ll pull up google and all of the academic and scholarly resources I have through the school. Then, I may do my first search term, but I won’t click on anything, I’ll just skim the results. If I know a little bit about my subject, I’ll just write whatever comes to mind as an opening paragraph. Oh, it most definitely will not be good, but it gets my base thoughts out on the topic.
This helps me to feel productive, while also getting the brainflow going a little. Then, I take that first break, feeling productive, and already giving my mind something to subconsciously work on.
So maybe not so much cheating as it is a hack.
Now it’s your turn!
Do you have any tips or tricks to fight procrastination? What makes you the most productive you can be? I realize my method isn’t for everyone! I’m interested to hear what else has actually worked for people.
If you have BPD, or any other mental illness, and have researched possible solutions or treatments, you likely have encountered DBT. Maybe you’ve even tried it.
I’ve seen the list of skills and all the acronyms (DEARMAN, anyone?). I’ve tried to absorb and practice what I’ve read. It felt like I had been starving in a desert and then I came across a buffet, eating everything I could. The problem with this method is that it didn’t stick very long. I didn’t have any routine or sense or order to what I did. I would just become hyper-focused on DBT being my solution and would rush to see how quickly I could understand and apply each skill.
DBT is overwhelming, though. It’s incredibly hard to learn everything there is to know on your own, without a therapist. The best route is to find a professional to help you understand each skill and put it into application.
If that’s not an option right now, or you just want some additional help, learning the skills on your own is absolutely possible. I encourage a more deliberate, methodical approach. Slower, but steadier, not trying to learn it all at once.
In fact, I’d say you could help yourself a lot with emotional regulation and handling emotional crises if you just learned one skill from DBT. What skill am I talking about?
What Is Mindfulness?
It means being in the moment. It’s that simple–being completely present when you’re doing something. No distractions. No judgments. Just being present in whatever you’re doing.
Some examples: eating without watching TV or reading, spending time with your friend without scrolling through your social media feeds, going on a walk or a hike while appreciating the beauty around you, doing a task or chore and being completely invested on each step, instead of letting your mind wander.
To quote Marsha Linehan, who developed DBT, “Mindfulness refers to the quality of attention or the quality of awareness or the quality of presence that you bring to every day life. It’s a way of living your life awake. Which is to say, with your eyes open, instead of your eyes closed.”
The focus here is doing only the thing you’re doing, no multitasking.
Learning mindfulness can help you handle emotions and difficult situations better when you’re in a crisis. Being present and acknowledging the situation for what it is can help you make better decisions. Other DBT skills can be used for when distraction or self-soothing are needed, but starting off with mindfulness in any emotional crisis can help you make better decisions.
Whether or not you have Borderline Personality Disorder, learning mindfulness is a game-changer!
How Will Mindfulness Help You?
If you dive deeper into the principles of DBT, you’ll learn about the core tenets behind mindfulness. It centers around the concept of different states of mind: Wise Mind, Logical Mind, and Emotional Mind. The goal is to achieve Wise Mind. It’s the best frame of mind in which to make decisions and react to situations.
In times of crisis, it’s especially important to find your Wise Mind, so that you don’t engage in harmful or destructive behaviors. It helps you non-judgmentally assess a situation, allowing yourself to feel anything that you might naturally feel, and then make a decision.
As someone with emotional dysregulation problems, I struggle sometimes to react to situations. I get frustrated. I sometimes cry. Sometimes I shut down. Sometimes I storm off. Sometimes I wish I had just stormed off. But I’ve learned to stop and minfully assess the situation. No judgments of my feelings. Acknowledging how my body and mind are reacting, what state of emotion I’m in, and just letting it be for a moment. Once I assess and describe the situation, I’m able to look at things more rationally and make a better decision.
How to Practice Mindfulness
The best way to practice being mindful is to do any activity without distraction.
Load the dishwasher, while taking care to place every dish in its proper place. Notice the color of each dish. Notice the way each one feels. Are the all made of the same materials (glass, plastic)? Or are they different? Do they smell foul? Do they need to be pre-cleaned before being loaded? Focus on every step of what you’re doing and on doing the job properly without letting your mind wander.
You just mindfully loaded the dishwasher!
Sit on your porch or look out your window. What do you see? What do you hear? Do you have a nice view of nature, or are you blocked by other buildings or an unsightly view? Observe the clouds and the way the lighting hits the scenery around it–or doesn’t, due to it being overcast or rainy.
You can do this with your surroundings anywhere. Mindfully observing your current environment can be done literally anywhere and is a great way to practice mindfulness.
You can even mindfully observe yourself! This is also called checking in with your body or a body scan.
Take a moment to notice how you’re feeling. Physically, do you notice any pain or discomfort? Where is it? How is it making you feel? Is there any tenseness or stress held in your jaw or neck? Feel the sensation of your chair or bed underneath you, notice how your weight feels on it and how it changes when you shift around. Can you feel your clothes against your skin if you try to notice it?
Check in with yourself emotionally. Is something bothering you? Do you feel worried, anxious, upset, angry, sad, frustrated, bored, excited, or nervous? Are you hungry or tired at all? Do you feel the effects of these feelings anywhere in your body? When we are angry, we tend to clench our jaw, for instance. When we are nervous or scared, our stomach may be churning or in knots.
Noticing how you’re feeling physically and emotionally is the gateway to effectively practicing mindfulness in difficult situations. It allows you to assess your feelings and your body’s response to them, take a moment, and then make a decision in how to react.
It takes some practice, but it’s worth it! Have you ever tried mindfulness? What’s easy about it and what’s hard? I want to know your experiences and thoughts. 🙂
In my pursuit for a healthier me, I run across many tips that say writing down affirmations is a good method to positively increase your self-esteem. I’ve half-heartedly memorized this tool upon dozens of times seeing it, and then never used it. At least, never properly used it. I always thought, How can I write down nice things about myself when I don’t even believe them?
One day, however, at Barnes and Noble, this book caught my eye: Self-Esteem: A Practical Guide. It looked like it had everything I had read about online, except easier to digest and easier to put into practice. All in one handy place, too. I bought myself a fancy leather journal for performing the activities and exercises. What also followed was a renewed excitement for bettering myself.
When it came time to learn about affirmations, I re-read it over and over. I was voracious in my desire to do this right. I reflected on and wrote thoughtfully in my journal to provide good self-affirmations and positive examples to support them. I read them every day, or every other day. I would remind myself of what I had written when my mind would idle. I’d force myself to think back to that list of affirmations whenever I identified myself thinking negatively or downplaying an accomplishment. I thought up new examples when I was at work or driving. I’ve done this for about a month so far.
And something started to happen.
I think it’s actually working.
My negative thoughts are decreasing and I’m finding it easier to remember good things that I’ve done. I can more easily recall things I’m proud of and can identify my good traits, without immediately trying to negate them or somehow wrestle with myself if it’s “good enough”. It’s given me permission to be okay with myself.
It feels good to see progress! I still deal with automatic, impulsive thoughts that bombard me, but refuting them with positive affirmations about myself has been a good practice. I also still tend to have a pretty negative body image, but I can see that I’m gaining confidence in myself, and it’s a really nice feeling!
So what does the book say that helped me so much?
Recognizing Your Positives
The author, David Bonham-Carter, emphasizes something that I think is important. “Acknowledging your own positives is about recognizing what you value in yourself and taking pride in yourself.” He says it’s a personal thing; not matching up to a standard someone else set. It’s pride in your own personal identity, which will naturally be different from your peers (the very people we often compare ourselves with).
So, for instance, I put on my list of things that I’m proud of that I was proud to have finished college at age 29. I actually feel embarrassed when I tell people I graduated at that age. I feel I have to do the whole song and dance to explain why it took so long, maybe crack a joke, get them to sympathize. It feels painful knowing so many of my peers, especially that I graduated with, were much younger when they got their degree. But why shouldn’t I be proud? I finished. My circumstances are not theirs. I had to overcome my own obstacles. I’m proud that I persevered!
In this section, Bonham-Carter also points out how activities you enjoy doing can help you identify abilities, qualities, and achievements you’re proud of and that make you happy.
Activity: Write a list of things you enjoy doing.
Characteristics of Helpful Affirmations
Using your list of things you enjoy, Bonham-Carter shows you how to write affirmations. Thinking of things you enjoy doing is a good springboard if you’re having trouble coming up with things you like about yourself or are proud of. You can see in these hobbies/passions a number of qualities about yourself that define you in a positive way. It may also get you thinking about some accomplishments or goals you achieved that you’re proud of. But not everything has to be some award you won or other tangible means of success. It’s about what’s important and special to you.
Some examples from the book of a fictional woman named Joanna:
I brought up my two children as well as I could
I am a good listener.
I usually try my best at things, even if I don’t always succeed.
I am kind-hearted.
Despite having a difficult background, I managed to gain professional qualifications as a lawyer.
The author warns the reader against making grandiose affirmations like “I can do anything” or “I’m a wonderful person”. Instead, he encourages you to be realistic and specific. He also encourages you to use examples, where possible, like “I ran a half-marathon and I’m proud of that”, or “I am kind because I have a heart for helping others”. The best affirmations, according to the book, are ones that can be supported by “evidence” (especially since we have such a hard time believing nice things about ourselves).
Activity:Write your own list of qualities, abilities, and achievements. Anything you’re proud of, whether it’s a personality trait or something you did. Reflect on your activities you enjoy, and the values inherent in them, if you need help. Don’t worry about what others might think or how they measure up–what do you think? What are you proud of? What do you think is noteworthy and special?
And that’s it for the summary!
That’s truly all it took for me to start seeing improvement in my self-esteem! If you’re struggling with your own self-esteem, I hope this gives you a jumping off point to start seeing some results. Read your affirmations every day (or try to)! Remind yourself of what you’ve written. Let it ruminate in your brain and stop those nasty, negative thoughts.
Are you sitting around, wishing you had the life of some Instagram-famous person? Are you jealous of people who do miraculous things for their age, while you can’t seem to even keep it together for a whole week? Do you whine about your life while simultaneously doing nothing about it? Don’t tell yourself, and all your followers, “the Universe has a plan for me”, or “The Universe has a way of working this stuff out”.
The Universe doesn’t give a shit about you. It’s not looking out for you. It’s not sending you signs. It’s not going to make things happen for you.
You are going to make things happen for you.
How do I know? Because I’ve been there too–and this is your wake-up call.
I’ve been in that position of feeling uninspired, in a rut, and lamenting how I’m stuck running in place, while my peers seem to be doing laps around me. I love to wallow in self-pity about it, too. It feels so good. I love to bemoan my current situation and feel frustrated at my shortcomings. It’s certainly easier than actually putting in any real effort to change. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel lost and unsure. It’s okay to be mad at yourself.
But don’t drag the fucking Universe into this.
The Universe isn’t going to apply to college for you. It’s not going to get you that dream job you want. It’s not going to keep persisting when you’re grinding out the hard work every day. If you want to credit the cosmos and believe all things work out in the end, that’s great, but you need to credit yourself, too. You put all the work out there into the Universe and are getting it back because you deserve it–not because of some random chance or because it’s the Universe’s will for you.
It’s one thing to believe in a higher power or the supernatural. It’s another to shrug and say, “Things will fall into place,” or “The Universe has a plan for me”. Yeah, girl, it might–but you’re going to have to actually execute it. Believing in something more than yourself or being a spiritual person isn’t an excuse to slack off, and it’s certainly not to blame when things don’t go exactly as you thought.
I want to empower you and inspire you to do the things you want to do, the things you need to do, and the ugly things you don’t even want to think about. Because you’re capable, you’re resilient, you’re tenacious. You can do those things you dream of–and you don’t even need the approval of the Universe to begin.
I’ve worked a variety of jobs over the past 14 years, over 30 the last time I counted. Since the age of 16, I’ve had jobs in retail, corporate offices, two different mailing companies, a gas station, and a fast food place. A lot of these jobs sucked. Most of them did, in fact. Jobs that paid too little but demanded too much. Toxic environments, bad scheduling, lack of policies, or lack of enforcing of existing policies. Asking too much of the staff. Saying you can come to them as managers, but when you do, they dismiss you or hold a group meeting and tell everyone to stop “getting upset over every little thing”. I admit that I hastily left some of these jobs in my impulsive youth, but objectively, many of them were challenging positions that were draining on both physical and mental health.
Despite those negatives, I noticed many of my fellow employees stayed for years. You will run into them at any job, no matter the type. I’ve talked to the veterans of a company, who agreed that the systems were inefficient, or that management didn’t hold anyone accountable, or that the general culture was lacking passion or enthusiasm for the job. But they didn’t want to leave because “the money is too good”, or “I need the health insurance”, or “I like my schedule here”. They loved to complain, but they loved those benefits more. I got a lot of excuses like that at multiple companies, from multiple people. Some of that goes into the fear of change, but it turns out quite a few people are happy just making a paycheck and going home.
I need to pay my rent, too, but I won’t stick around a crappy job for them. To me, a job should be more than just the benefits you get out of them. I like to feel a satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from what I do. I enjoy helping others, being in a bright, positive environment, feeling like I have the resources from my managers to do so, while solving problems, maintaining my autonomy, and having the right people around me.
In short, I crave purpose.
Humans, as a whole, seek purpose because it’s key to finding fulfillment. When we lack it, we feel directionless and lost. When we have it, we are confident, motivated, and more relaxed. Everything falls into place.
Having purpose is such a universal human experience, and yet, in my 14 years of employment history, I have found that many, if not a large majority, of my coworkers did not seek purpose.
At least, not in their job. Your paycheck doesn’t have to be your purpose, though some absolutely see providing for their family and paying bills as the utmost valuable thing they could do–and I see you. I am not driven that way, but I admire you.
What if you’re one of those lost, wandering souls, still looking for your purpose? Should you pursue a degree in a field you’re passionate about? Or look for fancy job titles and high-level positions at your most desired companies? Well, yeah, you absolutely could, if you want. But, it’s not a universal answer to finding your purpose.
I met a cleaning lady from Venezuela at my college who was dirt poor and barely spoke English, but she was so passionate about doing a good job as a janitor and getting to interact with people on a daily basis. She was a light in everyone’s life. She didn’t have a college degree, or a high school diploma, for that matter, but she loved what she did. She said that she loved doing this for the young people and being able to make a difference at the school.
That’s the kind of passion I’m talking about. It’s not tied to a job, but for her, it certainly was, regardless of whether it was a glamorous or prestigious position.
So, is it just finding something you’re good at then and like doing? I think that’s important, too, but it’s still only part of the story.
The important thing about finding purpose is finding something that you feel passion for, that you feel you belong to. It’s a cause, field, hobby, or industry that you feel needs you. It’s better for having you in it, and you’re better for having it, too.
How do you find your purpose? Well, that could be an entire article by itself. In fact, Google is full of them! Amazon, likewise, has tons of books on the topic that you can get for relatively cheap. Maybe I’ll write a post full of resources on this topic, but for now I’ll say this: you’ll know your purpose when you see it.
The amazing thing about not knowing what to do with your life is that you can do whatever you want! It’s so freeing. You can write a book, write a movie, be a counselor; advocate for an oppressed, victimized, or minority group; work with kids, work with animals, work with the elderly, learn to make or build something, be crafty, be YOU.
It can be your job. It can be your side hustle. It can be on a volunteer basis. It can be your hobby that no one knows about but you.
The best way to find out is to do. What do you care about? What gives you light? What are your values? Think about options that tick those boxes and find a way to incorporate it into your life. It may require a bit of sacrifice and rearranging of priorities, but it’s well worth it. I had to cut down on video games to make room for more writing. I do not regret it. We make time for the things we care about most. This is worth the space on your agenda!
If you’re still not sure what answers those questions, then try some things! What are your friends into? Can you try it out with them at a class or workshop? Can they introduce it to you and teach you about it? Look into niche subreddits on Reddit and see what it’s like to get into gardening or woodworking or video editing. It might draw your attention in more, or you might realize it’s not for you at all.
You’ll know it when you feel it. It’ll be what gets you excited. Working at a place that meets all my criteria would be a great way to serve my purpose and feel fulfilled, but if it’s just tolerable while I put my heart into my passion on the side–that’s fine, too.
Have you found a purpose in life? How did you know?
Humans are hard-wired to resist change. Our brains process a life-changing event, like a new job, a big move across country, or news of pregnancy, as being so unsettling that it registers as an error that needs to be corrected. Even when it’s a change that we desired and took weeks, even months to plan, we experience this fear. It may explain why the “cold feet” phenomenon happens to people right before their weddings. The nervous feeling in the pit of the stomach seems inevitable, regardless of intentions or planning.
What is it about change that we fear?
Think about a change in your life, especially a positive one, that you have made and all the steps it took. Moving across country, finding a new job, going back to college, getting married. There was probably a moment where you felt doubt or fear. Why? Can you put your finger on it?
Sometimes we just fear the unknown and hate the thought of leaving our old life, our old friends, our old habits behind. Sometimes, it’s just a mourning of that lost life in favor of a new one, no matter how bright and shiny its appeal was in the beginning. Sometimes, we know it’s the right choice and feel nervous or scared anyway. Our brains don’t like the unfamiliar.
It doesn’t matter that humans as a species are adaptable. It doesn’t matter that you’ve spent careful thought and consideration to make this choice and recognize that it’s good for you. We like the comfort of routine and that feels safe. A disruption of that, large or small, feels uncertain and scary.
Afraid to even try
What about the changes you’ve thought about, and know you want to make, like starting a new exercise plan, or pursuing a new career, but you just can’t pull the trigger? What are some of the reasons why you can’t?
“I don’t have the time”, “I’m too tired”, “I can’t afford the gym”, “I need to pay off this debt first”, “I’m not qualified for these jobs”, “I like my schedule at the current place”, “I know how the system works here”.
Do you recognize these for what they are? None of the above reasons are legitimate. Really, you don’t have the time to exercise? Even though it’s something you say you want and you know would be good for you, and you talk to your friends who work out and say things like, “I’m so jealous. I wish I could work out!” What’s stopping you?
We make time for the things that matter most to us. Time is usually the biggest bullshit excuse for not doing something in the world. This year, I decided I wanted to change my priorities. In doing that, I had to look at my own schedule and current priorities and how it reflected with my new goals. I didn’t think I had the time, but I really did. I just spent a lot of it playing video games. The reality here was that I didn’t want to give up that time. I liked doing it, and felt I’d be giving up “too much” if I only spent an hour playing instead of four. That statement is laughably dumb now. Four hours of video games was not getting me closer to where I wanted to be in life.
How to make the change
I encourage you to pull the trigger on the new workout routine, writing your novel, a new career path, starting a family, going back to school, getting your pilot’s license, starting your new business, pursuing your dream/hobby/goal–whatever it is! If something is calling you, but you’re too afraid of the change (or afraid to fail), here’s some scientifically-proven starter tips:
Write down an affirmation related to this goal. Something tangible you can refer to and say, “this is why I want to do this. This is why I’m going through this scary stuff.” If you’re that passionate about it, you’ll continue to feel inspired. Make a vision board, if you’re more visually-motivated.
Assess your current priorities. Not what you actually value, not what you dream of–where your time is currently going. As stated above, my goals and actual real-life priorities did not match up. I noticed video games were a time sink and I made the necessary adjustment. I didn’t quit them; I adjusted how much I played. I’m also prone to surfing social media even though it makes me feel like crap, time-and-time again. What is in your current routine that doesn’t sync up with your long-term goals or dreams? What’s taking up your time that you can get rid of or cut down?
Cut through your other BS excuses. Working out is a good example. Saying the gym is too expensive or that you don’t have any equipment at home is just a fancy excuse. YouTube is full of free workout videos, including ones that don’t need weights or any other materials. I also encourage you to give yoga a try. They have styles for building strength, building flexibility, or for weight loss. I use a blanket, not even a real yoga mat. No equipment, no gym fees, no excuses!
Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be a real life coach that you meet up with, but it does help to have someone you can go to when you need advice and support. I use the term mentor because I find it helpful to seek out people who have done what you’re doing and been through what you’ve been through. If you have a great support system already, that’s awesome. But it is so amazingly validating and fulfilling to speak to someone who has been through what you’re going through, or about to go through. It can be online, with a total stranger. I’m such a big advocate of online forums. It’s a great way to get myriad opinions and backgrounds, while maintaining the comforting, introverted buffer of the internet.
Get started, even if it’s not perfect.You don’t have to have every step in place. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge. There won’t always be details that you can flesh out to the very end. You won’t always know everything at the beginning. Sometimes you just need to get in, get the experience, and fall back on that mentor of yours when you run into a wall. And hey, that first step is usually the hardest anyway. You may be relieved at how it feels to just go for it.
I hope you go for the change you’ve been wanting. I hope everything works out the way you want.
What is it that you want to do but are too afraid to start? What has been holding you back?
I played Super Mario Bros. on SNES when I was a kid. I played it over and over for years. I had Donkey Kong Country I and II, Tiny Tunes, and a couple of Disney games. That’s all I needed. As a teenager, my experience with gaming was racing games on the original PlayStation and Tomb Raider II, which I never beat. I didn’t touch any more games until a few years ago when Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare II introduced me to shooters…sort of.
From there, it was my gateway game into Overwatch, then Titanfall 2, Battlefield One, Horizon Zero Dawn, Destiny 2, Monster Hunter World, and beyond. I still play today, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to quit this time. Starting at 28 though, I struggle with issues that other gamers mastered years ago–aiming, reflexes, understanding game designs and mechanics without in-depth tutorials, not getting nauseous when I’d switch from a third-person perspective in one game to a first-person POV in another.
However, I maintain it as one of my favorite activities to do, despite maybe not being the best player ever. The experience has been exciting and rewarding. I also realized that you could take away many life lessons from it, if you really looked.
Here’s what video games have taught me.
I’ve heard this one is a virtue. Also, something about good things come to those who wait? It’s because the early bird catches the worm. Ah! I can’t stop talking in cliches! Video games require a certain level of patience for a variety of different aspects. Learning fighting combos, battling difficult bosses, or navigating a jumping puzzle will teach you in a hurry to slow down and accept your fate. If you want to succeed, you have to be patient. Angry fits of frustration rarely make it happen any faster (that hasn’t stopped me from trying that route a time or two).
It’s a good skill to have in life, too. Take your time when doing important things. After all, haste makes waste. Ah! I’m doing it again. But I do have to remember patience when I’m trying to rush through something. I’ve seen the sloppy results of my rushing, and it’s not pretty. I also do this with BIG IMPORTANT LIFE DECISIONS that I should definitely take my time on. I just like to have things marked off as done, instead of waiting around. I have to remind myself that it’s not just “waiting” around though. Being patient can help you make a better decision and help you tune into your rational side, if you’re prone to impulsiveness like me.
I’ve also had to apply this to my mental health. For example, using a DBT skill or a breathing exercise for the 1000th time. It feels so repetitive sometimes and it’s hard to feel like it’s working. Just remember: it’s not about mastery; it’s about maintenance.
You don’t need to have everything figured out
When I picked up a certain popular, massive RPG for the first time (The Witcher 3), I was intimidated by the overwhelming amount of things to explore and do. It deterred me enough to put the game down. I feared I had done it wrong up to that point and had missed out on something. I later watched a video that said not to worry about some of those bigger things and just enjoy the game until you level up. It made me feel so relieved. Why did I focus so hard on having everything perfect, instead of just playing?
This correlates perfectly to the same feeling I get in my life–planning my career, figuring out meal prep, wanting to have a linear progression for mental health recovery. Like that same video game though, I don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t have to have the perfect resume or portfolio before I allow myself to start applying to dream jobs. I don’t need to have blogger mom-style meal plans and Pinterest boards full of ideas to go grocery shopping. Things just do not have to be perfect in order to get started and to reap the benefits.
I’m detail-oriented, but I like to look at the big picture. Maybe too much. You can take that first step, even if you’re not sure what the whole picture looks like. Ah! Now I’m just mixing metaphors.
Don’t forget to have fun!
I admit I struggle to have fun playing video games sometimes. I play to win and to be good at the game. I’m very focused on my personal stats because that’s what being good at the game is to me. That’s what having fun is to me: empirical data with a measurable way to improve. So when I do poorly, I don’t enjoy playing so much. And if I’m not enjoying it, what’s the point in playing?
That’s when I have to change my approach. Do something less serious. Go work on my form in a practice area. Take a moment to chill out. I don’t want to play if I’m not having fun.
I think life should be similar. Not the exact same. Like, don’t go quit your job because it’s not fun or fulfilling. You still need that. But start looking for a new one! Build skills for a job that you really want, even if you have to do that on the side for awhile. Keep your dreams alive. Say yes to more fun things. Say no to more things that weigh you down. Don’t do everything out of obligation, instead pick and choose what’s worth your time.
If people judge you or criticize you for not being a “team player” or being too selfish, remember that this is your boundaries and mental health at stake, not theirs (if you’re accused of not being a team player in a video game though, probably should listen to that a bit). You are not responsible for everyone else’s problems or feelings. It’s a crazy concept for someone like me, who took years of adulthood to figure out to put my needs first. It’s not selfish; it’s self-care. You can take care of your needs, while also being a compassionate, empathetic person. It’s about boundaries. That doesn’t sound like “fun”, but it helps you set limits for yourself and it can help you create parameters for yourself to make more time for things you enjoy.
That’s right. You can order yourself to have fun.
Know who to talk to
Knowing the right NPC to speak to can literally be a game changer. It can move the story along or give you valuable items, completely changing the course of the game. I admit I’ve been stumped while playing a game until I realized I needed to speak to the right person or do something in a specific order, in just the right way, to get it done.
You should also know who to talk to in life. Know when to ask help, know when to reach out, know who your resources are. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. This big ole world feels small and lonely far too often. But you do have those who care and who will listen and support you. There’s always internet strangers in various forums all over the world, too, right at your fingertips. It can feel weird to just reach out to someone and say, “Hey, I need to talk to someone,” especially if you don’t feel like any of your friends are “that kind of friend”. So the internet is a perfect solution to this problem! I’ve used it myself many times.
This can be applied to other things as well. Knowing who to talk to you at your job when you want to move up the ladder or get a raise. Or perhaps, like me, you fancied a career change and you needed outward advice and opinions on what to do next. You would ask people who are in that field or who have made similar moves and seem knowledgeable about the job market as a whole.
It all comes down to knowing who is in your corner. I’ve found it useful to communicate with people on Twitter, as I’m learning the blogging world and what’s “meta”. Just like I do on Reddit when I’m learning a new game.
All that matters is you get through it and you enjoy it
My boyfriend has told me repeatedly that a game he loves, Bioshock, would be enjoyable to me even if I played it on “easy” mode. Playing on easy is sort of taboo among hardcore gamers because it means you didn’t earn your way through it properly. It’s almost seen as cheating because you aren’t of the same skill level as other people. To this, my boyfriend offered: “The point of the game is to have fun. If you have to do it on easy, then who cares? It’s a video game. That’s what it’s for.” He’s right. I hold myself to such high standards when gaming (as I mentioned) and I hate using any crutches or advantages that might make me look less legit. But what he said about this really clicked with me.
Similar to the point about having fun, all that matters about your choices in life is that you’re getting through it and doing what you want.
You don’t have to do things “the right way”, like I mentioned above. You don’t have to do what you don’t want to do, just because you think you should.
This is your life. You can do or not do what you want. Your decisions are not set in stone. It is not too late. You’re not too old. It’s not impossible.
I say this not as some successful career person who has had an illustrious life filled with amazing adventures and meaningful endeavors. I’ve been here and there. I’ve made good choices and really, really bad ones. I’ve done things I’m proud of, and seemingly far too many things I regret. Nothing really sticks for too long, it seems. I find somewhere I belong and then I’m gone when it no longer fits me. I haven’t let that stop me from having a passion, from having goals. I still cherish experiences and connections above all else, and I can look at those moments from my past and present life as things that warm my soul the way nothing else can.
I sometimes do feel like it’s all over. It’s too late. I suck at life. Wallowing in that sentiment will not help me feel better about it. It won’t change anything. I try to focus on the positive, great memories, while also keeping my eyes firmly on the future. I am always in the pursuit of that which fulfills and enriches my life. From people and connections, to experiences and events, to passions and hobbies.
That’s what my 2019 is going to be about–people, passions, and a lot more video games.
In my pursuit for better mental health, I’ve found a lot of self-help and recovery resources that recommend comforting activities for when you’re having intensely negative emotions or massive anxiety. The purpose is to calm you down and distract you from the negative or uncomfortable situation. I’ve also seen mental health tips like, “do something that you love” or “take up a hobby,” to encourage emotional happiness and decrease stress.
These both sound great and all, but it can be frustrating if you don’t see any practical application, or if the given examples don’t actually do anything for you.
When I tried to create my own list of comfort activities and pleasure activities, I realized that I was confusing comfort and pleasure. I’m not very good at self-care, and it became difficult to connect to someone else’s generic list, much less find the difference between comfort and pleasure. I decided to sort out the differences so that, when I needed it, I’d engage with the proper self-care technique.
So in order to better serve my mental health, I have to distinguish between comfort and pleasure. It looks something like this:
Comfort is soothing, distraction, calming, and healing
While it can certainly be enjoyable, the main benefit is that it is soothing and calming. It will both comfort me and distract me from any harmful stimuli (especially negative thoughts). Something can be distracting, like Facebook, but not necessarily comforting though. Or it may be comforting to stay in pajamas and underneath the covers, but that isn’t distracting you or helping you with your difficult situation.
I also realized that other people’s definition of comfort, like reading a book, might not match mine. I had to figure out from experience what things actually calm me and heal me.
Some comforting things to me would be:
Listening to soothing, relaxing music (smooth/chill EDM is my go-to)
Tactile comforts like playing with kinetic sand or a fidget cube
Funny videos, especially stand-up comedy (maybe not classically comforting, but laughter is good for the soul, and it can change my mood so quickly)
Lighting a nice-smelling candle
The smell of printed magazines or books, speaking of nice-smelling things
Taking a bath with Epsom salt or Eucalyptus oil
Using face masks–i like to feel clean and taken care of
Opening the blinds during a sunny day or stepping outside for a moment to absorb some sunlight
Going on a walk, if I’m able to
Looking at the stars/galaxies (outside or pictures online)
Pleasure is fun, enjoyable, rewarding, exciting, and enriching
Like I said before, pleasure and comfort can cross paths, but the main benefit of seeking pleasurable or enjoyable activities is ultimately about increasing happiness. Seeking hobbies and interests which you’re passionate about gives your life purpose and fulfillment–or they can just be an enjoyable way to unwind and have fun.
Here are the activities that really get my blood pumping:
Music – especially listening through a good pair of headphones or a nice speaker, while I do chores or some other mindless tasks with my hands
Connecting with people who make my heart happy, who make me laugh, who really get me
Playing video games
Learning new things
Making videos/short films to tell the stories I envision
When to Use These Activities
Now that I know the difference, here is how I like to utilize the items in each category:
Being upset or sad
Feeling listless or restless
Being in a rut
What are some things on your comfort list or pleasure list?