I am writing this somewhere in time and space during the great global pause resulting from COVID19 in the year 2020. I am writing it for myself as much as I am for anyone who resonates with it. It’s an analogy that I cannot shake from my consciousness. The gift in all of this, if we are open to seeing the gifts — and it’s OK if you are not — is that many of us would not have voluntarily agreed to this type of reset in our lives, ever. All right, so some of you have done Vipassana or other life-changing retreats where you get out of the habits of regular daily life for an extended period of time, but this is different. We are doing it together, with friends, family, community, country. We are all going through an Epic Elimination Diet, one that could have seriously positive effects on our lives for years to come.
What is an elimination diet? Many of you have likely heard of this practice, but for those who haven’t the gist of it is this. “An elimination diet is an eating plan that omits a food or group of foods believed to cause an adverse food reaction, often referred to as a ‘food intolerance.’ By removing certain foods for a period of time and then reintroducing them during a ‘challenge’ period, you can learn which foods are causing symptoms or making them worse.” Do you see where I am going here? Many of our daily habits or routines have been eliminated or taken away from us. They are currently omitted from our lives. As we begin to start putting them back in, “reintroducing” them, there’s a tremendous opportunity here to tune in to our body and mind’s responses to that activity. As with a food intolerance, there may be aspects to your former life that were not actually supporting you and your optimum well-being. Now’s your chance to find out what those things are.
What IS Working Now?
First, take an inventory of the way you are living right now. What is different about your life that actually feels good? What are the Life Enhancing Activities (LEAs) that you are participating in right now? Here are a list of possibles, but everyone’s life and needs are different so please do your own inquiry, and make your list as long as you want!
- Spending time with family
- Spending time in nature
- Shopping less
- Driving less
- Being creative
- Reading more
- Baking more
- Slowing down
- Being more diligent about your health
NOTE: I realize that not everyone has more time on their hands. If you are someone who is working more, working while homeschooling or for whatever reason without extra time, this is still a valuable exercise. With less time available, it becomes that much more important to spend a little time prioritizing your needs.
Step two, create a “Haves list.” Whatever your list looks like, have a real heart to heart with yourself about what is most important to maintain once things start to come back in. I highly recommend organizing them into categories of Must Haves and Nice to Haves or whatever rating system feels right to you. Note this may change over time which is perfectly okay, but pick a starting list so that you have a reference point. You will eventually have to make a difficult decision about whether or not you are putting something back in your life if it forces you to take away one of your Haves.
Last preparatory step, create a Commitment and Accountability Plan. Based upon your work in step two, now’s the time to figure out how you want to continue to make these LEAs a priority. This work shouldn’t feel overwhelming. Don’t make it another job that you loathe. Get creative here. Perhaps you want to make Post-It note reminders and place them in locations where they will be useful. Tape a note on your computer about what you feel like after taking a walk in nature. Print out pictures that inspire or awaken the feelings of the activity you want to make time for. Choose a phone background that reminds you about something on your Haves list. If you’re really clear about how you can build the Haves into your routine, create a schedule around these activities so that they become as important and habit-forming as brushing your teeth every day. Make meditation your morning or evening routine before going to bed. Step outside for fresh air and time in nature when you’d usually have that second cup of coffee or cookie. Find an accountability buddy or buddies to check in with about this regularly. Having support in this endeavor will go a long way to ensuring your success. I am happy to be your buddy!
Yes, means yes. No, means no. Maybe, means no.
Now that you’ve done all these preparations, and gotten clear on priorities, how do you know what to let back in, to reintroduce, versus what you keep out? Just like a food elimination diet, you pay attention to how you’re feeling. This isn’t always easy because there are often several factors that can contribute to your state of being at any given time, but you can do some experiments as you’re trying to figure out what is important to put back in. Let’s say you get a call to join the PTA or serve on a community committee and you suddenly feel a heaviness in your shoulders or a lethargy in your energy. Your body’s physical response is often very telling. We just don’t always pay attention or listen. If you don’t brighten up at the thought of doing something and it’s not something that you have to do then try to keep it out. Wise words that I heard once upon a time: “Yes, means yes. No, means no. Maybe, means no.”
This is also about defending your time as you slowly ease back into life. Defend is a strong word to use, but it’s YOUR time and the world will have no problem asking for it. Some choices will be easy. Rather than making another trip to the store, you make due with what’s in your pantry or get creative with leftovers. Simple. The harder choices come in the form of family and friends or because of their economic reward. Staying late at work because you want that bonus may seriously cut into the time available for your Haves List. You must decide if it’s really worth it. This brings up an important point. So much of our time consumption and stress comes from our desire to improve or maintain our financial situation. This is not to be overlooked. Don’t assume your financial situation cannot or should not change. Maybe you really can downsize knowing the cost of that hefty mortgage payment and how it impacts your ability to do things that truly make you feel good. Or maybe you live with a roommate or you get a car with a lower monthly payment. You get to prioritize, but remember that honesty we talked about earlier. Now’s the time to be very, very honest with yourself.
The bottom line is there are certain activities that are going to feed your energy and others that will drain it.
What about the things you really do want back in your life and want to make time for, like socializing and kids activities? It might seem like an easy decision, but they all cut into your valuable time. It doesn’t mean you cannot do them, but you may need to be more mindful with how much time is allocated to them. One clear way of knowing you’ve forgotten about your Haves List is if you don’t desire or have the energy to them anymore. Usually this means that you don’t have enough life force inside, qi or ch’i, prana, or whatever you prefer to call it. This article could have easily been titled “Optimizing Your Qi,” but I like analogies so I went the elimination diet route. The bottom line is there are certain activities that are going to feed your energy and others that will drain it. If you start to feel run down, stressed out, are getting sick, or feeling irritable, these are all signs that you need to press the reset button and get back to your Haves List.
Now is the time for diligence and keeping it slow. As your old life starts to creep back in, be diligent about noticing how you feel in every moment. Part of the challenge in the way we have all been living pre-pandemic, is that we pack so much in to our life that it doesn’t give us the time or space to notice when it gets out of balance. We just keep pushing on, doing more, taking on more. It is a great testament to our strength, so no shame there, but in the long run, it’s not sustainable. Time and space are your friends. It is only when we’re quiet that we can actually hear, so try your best to find some mindful stillness where you can listen within and check in on how you are feeling.
Of course this is easier for some than others. There are many of you who have to work multiple jobs, juggle work and family responsibilities or for whatever reason have a baseline of responsibilities that takes up much of your day. This doesn’t seem fair, for sure. You won’t be able to add as many of the life enhancing activities as others will, but that doesn’t mean you should just let them all go. You’ll have to work more creatively to try and balance your responsibilities with your well-being. You may have to make more difficult decisions about what you allow in versus what you keep out, but I know it will be worth it.
Which brings me to my final point. I don’t naively believe that this will be easy for anyone. It won’t be. It’s not easy to change habits. It’s not easy to say “no.” It’s not easy to walk away from things like career, fame and fortune. I speak from experience. It took me years, but I’ve made some major life changes that weren’t easy. I am a lawyer who left the practice despite the power and prestige. I left a sales job in tech despite the very large paychecks. I left a toxic and hurtful business relationship despite our past friendship. I left a non-profit board despite how much I cared about its mission. It’s not easy to put our well-being first most of the time, but you have never been given a more perfect opportunity to try.