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Two-Group Mentality

The current pandemic has given me an opportunity to take stock of things, an opportunity which was way overdue it seems.

For the last couple of years I’ve juggled, not always succesfully, a number of obligations. This has led to a couple of periods of poor mental health, which I’ve been able to get through with the aid of family, friends and very good therapist.

At the heart of the problem is the way I choose to summarise my obligations (and it’s only recently that I’ve realised that it IS a choice). The different demands on my time I feel I can summarise into two groups.

The first is a group is made up of things that are essential to me. For me this includes my full-time employment, my commitment to family and my degree studies. These are things that I fundamentally must do if I want to maintain my current standing and achieve my goals. If I don’t go to work, I won’t have money to pay the bills. If I don’t make time for my family then those relationships will suffer, and if I don’t complete my studies then I fail my modules and lose the money I’ve committed to them.

The second group is made up of things that I WANT to do, but that aren’t essential for me to function. For me I would say these include exercising (that’s a recent one), shooting videos and blogging, and tinkering with things at home. The world doesn’t stop turning if I don’t do these things, but I may feel less fulfilled without them.

The problem is that if I try and do all the things that I need and want to do then I often find myself burning out. All of a sudden the things I want to do, the things that bring me joy, are an obligation and I no longer get any enjoyment from them. As someone who suffers with anxiety this can be a challenge to accept.

Anyone who has suffered with anxiety will understand this. It’s the perception that anything and everything in a persons life falls into Group 1, and has to be acheived in order for that person to function. And at that point everything becomes essential and everything becomes urgent. When that happens it can be very hard to actually get a grip on anything in my life. I find that I procrastinate over the simplest of things, I find that a simple goal ends up having dozens of dependencies which I have to fulfil first. I have trouble prioritising my tasks and make (with hindsight) silly decisions about how to manage my workload. The whole thing comes crashing down and I disappear into a hole to recover.

The secret, as I’m learning now, is to not expect perfection of myself and to make sure I put things in the right group. But is the way I’m grouping things even correct in the first place?

It’s a subjective thing. But what I’m realising now is that my outlook may not be right, for me. I know I put all the “essential” things into Group 1. But am I truly putting the non-essential things into Group 2? If I were then I wouldn’t get so upset with myself if I didn’t get the video I wanted to do on YouTube by the end of the week. Nor would I punish myself for not making it to the gym yesterday (ignoring the fact that I’m currently quarantined).

Getting out of this mindset can be tricky, and it might seem counterproductive. If I’m not achieving anything in Group 2 then can I truly be fulfilled in life? Perhaps not. But at the same time, if I punish myself for not achieving the things that I want to do then am I doing myself any favours? Definitely not.

The trick, for me at least, is to recognise when I’ve put things in Group 2 and to not battle myself constantly into completing them. Didn’t get that video uploaded? Not a problem, I’m sure I’ll find time soon. Missed the gym session? You’re quarantined, not your fault. Didn’t get that new VPN project completed? It… can… wait.

The trick is to ensure that I recognise where I’ve grouped things and respond accordingly. To not be so hard on myself if I don’t get everything I want to done, but to still try and make sure that the things I’ve placed in Group 1 don’t leave me with no time for everything else. It’s not easy, and it is a balancing act. But with practice I’m getting a lot better at it, and when I do everything gets a lot simpler and a lot calmer.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Not everything has to be done right now.

Author

Matt

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