One: What takes up your time?
Is your schedule too full? Or maybe you don’t really have a schedule? If you’re perfectly happy with how you spend your time, I sincerely congratulate you. But many of us spend too little time doing what replenishes us, or fortifies us, or bolsters confidence and helps us grow. Maybe we turn into workaholics or perhaps we gradually become trained to pursue small, temporary pleasures that ultimately leave us unsatisfied or even drained. We neglect our social lives, or we neglect adventure. Or perhaps we neglect our responsibilities because they’re too hard or just not especially fun, resulting in unpleasant consequences that can sew anxiety and depression, amidst the other consequences they bring. It’s not so different than the body’s need for nutrition: we need iron, and calcium, and vitamin B12, and whatever else, but also not too much sugar or saturated fat, of course, because why should we get to eat delicious stuff all the time? (Thanks, stupid body.)
Our souls need a healthy balance too, of course, just like those self-help books will all remind us. And if we’re looking for something to weaken the smothering hold of depression, this can be an invaluable area of life to examine. Extroverts may need an abundance of meaningful time with people, but they also need time to reflect and be introspective. Creative types certainly need time to create, but they may also need to spend time doing the grittier unpleasant tasks of training and application and bloody annoying paperwork. Why? Because these can be the kind of activities that promote growth and produce confidence as we realize our own competency and self-sufficiency. We need to be challenged. And we need time to rest, relax, and replenish. But then we need to get up and keep going. If we stop to reflect, most of us can identify areas in our lives that could benefit from more time and attention. So how about you? What could you benefit from spending more time doing?
Two: How do you approach problems?
Our problem-solving instincts can dominate our lives if we’re not careful. It looks different from person to person, but at its root, it’s trying to fix what we perceive is wrong with the world around us. Facebook arguments, staying late at the office every night to impress your boss, trying to make your spouse finally see your side of things, that one friend who never does what you want, bills, disappointing family members, and so on. There are a million places where our problem-solving instincts flare to life. We often get a small, short-term boost of empowerment from pointing out or identifying a problem—that “I’m smart” feeling that allows us to believe we’re on our way to fixing things. And indeed, identifying what’s wrong is the beginning of the problem-solving process. But identifying problems this can leave us depressed and depleted if we rarely see positive changes occur, either because of the lack of response our criticism produces or because of our disappointment with ourselves for not doing something more direct to fix the problem.
Yet most frustrating of all, our efforts often will fail to solve our problems. Repeat: our efforts will never eliminate all of the problems we are able to identify. Which is why gaining the ability to accept the slow, clumsy, annoying, and the perpetually ongoing process of problem-solving is so valuable. As we come to accept that problems are a normal part of life (and not things that “shouldn’t be happening to me!”), we can learn to expend less energy wishing they would just go away. We can cultivate durability, which frees us up to be more content before the problem is resolved as we gradually pursue the outcomes we desire. This doesn’t mean we ignore problems, it means we recognize that our problem-solving instinct will dominate us if we don’t shut it down from time to time. It means we’re better off thinking of ourselves as people who are able to keep striving and enduring in this world that is never short on problems than as people who need our problems to end in order for us to experience happiness.