Taking it easy gets a bad rap. We’re taught to believe the more we do, the more we matter. The more productive we are, the more progress we make, the better we are at being human.
But in the face of a global pandemic and social unrest, which has made keeping up with the productivity myth even more challenging, it’s clear this isn’t — and never was — an ideal way to live. Constant productivity is an expectation borne of ableism and capitalism, and measuring ourselves by that standard isn’t fair to anyone.
Plus, we need downtime.
“If we’re not giving our minds and bodies regular opportunities to decompress or come back to baseline, we may feel general anxiety or agitation, and we’ll have trouble concentrating day to day,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Vivien Lee.
What if simplifying our lives is exactly what we need to get through tough times? What if the kinder, gentler approach brings us a different kind of success? Worst case, you get some downtime. Best case, you transform yourself — and maybe even the world at large.
Here are some ways you can start to put these ideas into action. Enjoy — and be well.
We all have to get our work done to survive. But bodies also have a limit. Mental exhaustion and burnout are common consequences of pushing too hard.
When you notice yourself getting caught up in the feeling of being hurried or busy, view it as a signal to slow down and take a breath instead of leaning in.
To change your behavior, you must first change the way you think. And because we’ve been conditioned to feel bad for taking it easy, we have to challenge our thoughts on a daily, hourly — maybe minute-by-minute —basis. Make it your mantra: you are worth more than your productivity.
Joy shouldn’t be a reward for working hard — it should be built into your schedule. Dedicating time to connect with loved ones and doing things that make you happy, just for the sake of it, is a great path toward a more resilient life.
Nourishing yourself is an important parts of mental and physical health, but diet culture has taken this to an extreme. We live in a world where it’s normal to count calories and obsess over our weight and shape.
The intuitive eating framework is a rejection of all that. Based around 10 core principles, intuitive eating helps us find pleasure in eating and teaches us to love and respect our bodies at their natural size. Because eating a doughnut doesn’t make you a bad person, just like a salad doesn’t make you a good one.
Exercising shouldn’t be part of a twisted reward system that “allows” you to have that extra slice of cake. It should be something you do because it makes you feel good. So it helps to do something you genuinely have fun doing, like swimming or playing a team sport with your friends.
“Start experimenting with how it feels to do different types of exercise, and get curious about your genuine preferences,” says registered dietitian and nutrition therapist Meghan Kacmarcik.
And remember, movement doesn’t have to be working out — it can be mundane tasks like walking, cleaning, or reorganizing your garage.
Allow yourself not just a restful sleep but also decompression throughout your waking hours. As Kacmarcik points out, this helps regulate your nervous system, especially in these stressful times.
Try something that slows your heart rate, like meditation, reading a book, or spending time with loved ones. This can reduce stress in the short term, which, research suggests, can support your overall health in the long term.
If you’ve discovered a genuine love of baking sourdough during the pandemic, great! Keep kneading that dough. But if you’re forcing yourself to sit down and practice French when all you want to be doing is watching “The Bachelorette,” it might be time for some self-reflection.
Striving for constant improvement may feel like “winning,” but it can actually take a mental and emotional toll. “With prolonged stress, our output will be subject to diminishing returns,” says Lee.
According to Lee, the following tips can help you get to self-actualization without obsession:
When your idea of “happiness” or “health” (or whatever else you’d like to accomplish) is ambiguous, you may not ever feel like you’ve achieved it.
Lee suggests identifying a particular goal and also setting sub-goals. For example, if you want to eventually take a 30-minute walk each day, your sub-goals could be scheduling the time each day, getting outside, and gradually working up to your intention.
This is advice you’ve heard before and will hear again, because for the vast majority of us, it isn’t intuitive. We have a hell of a time accepting our imperfections.
“No one has ever beat themselves into being a better person,” says Lee.
This isn’t about excusing things you’ve done wrong or shirking responsibilities. It’s about taking accountability and learning from your mistakes. Next time you mess up, take a look at what got in the way or caused the problem and use it to problem-solve for the future.
Why is it that you want to learn French so bad, anyway? Are you reaching for an idealized version of yourself? Are you doing it to impress other people?
Ask yourself: Is it truly something that will make joy more available to me?
As Lee says, “Remember you’re human. We all have different values and needs throughout our lives. What matters to you?”
We don’t become enthralled with living up to “the grind” for no reason. We’re taught from the minute we start school that hard work makes us valuable, “useful” people. Essentially, we tie being busy to being a moral, ethical human being.
But when we break it down, this equation of “hard work = good person” is clearly problematic. Even the most privileged among us struggle with productivity from time to time. We get sick. We get fired. We get disillusioned.
Taylor Swift may have written two albums during the pandemic, but that’s her prerogative. Other people’s productivity shouldn’t make you feel like you’re coming up short.
Truth is, we deserve to keep things simple. We deserve to take it easy. We deserve to feel joy and to build a life we’re proud of, even if it looks entirely different from what our culture says is right.
If we’re able to accept these truths, to accept our own inherent worth, then we can start to focus a little less on doing and a little more on being.
JK Murphy is a Halifax-based writer and photographer who is passionate about mental health and body politics. She loves the ocean and making people laugh. Follow her on Twitter.