Feeling ill this week I took to the sofa and immersed myself in Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. One that I see recommended in various places and given praise, but at the same time I was a bit wary. I expected a rather dark book.
Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychotherapist. His personal experience in a concentration camp during the Second World War forms the backbone of stories for his psychological theory that is shared in the book. I read it front cover to back cover in one afternoon. I found it surprisingly optimistic.
As well as being an autobiographical account of his ordeal in the concentration camps, Victor Frankl’s book dealt with the transitions that framed his imprisonment. He wrote about the initial humiliation and the shock, and then, at the end, he wrote about the vast unease that came following liberation, and how the psychologically, this didn’t happen in an instant.
And transition periods fascinate me. They feel like something we don’t pay enough attention to. Too often we concentrate on the big reason for changing and miss the details of the change in the process.
Not quite yet, but soon, I’m moving to far and distant lands
Already I can feel the tension in my body increasing. I say that, and I haven’t yet got back home to England. I’ve got two steps ahead planned, multiple transitions, and as much as I love novelty, my body does not.
Before therapy I described this as a change funk. Now I’m a little more attune with what is going on. I know that my hunger is all or nothing. I know that my sleep is lots or little. I know that my skin is about to object in the only way it knows how, and that the chances are that within the next month I’ll have mouth ulcers.
It they were only spots, I could ignore them
But with stress there’s an emotional side to too. The extremes of my emotions are more likely to raise their heads these next few months as I switch countries and continents.
After all this moving around is not a holiday; holidays come with less admin. This is a restructuring. It includes everyday things like:
- Where and what food I eat.
- Where I wash myself.
- The bed in which I sleep.
- The weather (and season).
And what’s going to happen is that many of my wonderful habits are going to get shook up. They won’t feel quite so automatic, so habitual. I’ll find myself swinging off-course, which is not where I want to be. Therefore, I’m writing this article to get my head around how much effort it’s going to take to rebuild my routine.
So why am I going to struggle here?
- Lack of energy management
- Absence of triggers
There are many fears that influence how we structure our lives
The fear of missing out is one of these, but when we think about the fear of missing out, I believe we often skip a step. The truth is that when I’m joyous and focused I don’t have this feeling. If I’ve spent the day loving what I’m doing I don’t worry that I didn’t happen to go with some friends to see some film. I’m content.
It’s when I’m not content that the fear of missing out comes into play. So, if I have this fear arising in me then I know what I do. I need to look back a bit at what I’m doing with my time, and recognise that there is, somewhere in the mix, a lack of self-satisfaction. I need to self-soothe. I need to take time and care for me.
When I first landed in Spain, finding friends was a priority
I felt very much like I needed to pour a huge amount of effort into my social life immediately, or that I wouldn’t have one. After all I was going to be living in the country for eight months.
At the time this seemed to make complete sense
When I look back, that’s bullshit. Hindsight is a good teacher. Looking back, I can see that although those first weeks introduced me to some people I go out for coffee with, my social life isn’t built around them. The meaningful conversations and relationships I’ve built came from investments of time I made much later, at my own natural pace.
The fear of missing out also drives me when I’m back home
Moving back to England, for a few weeks, I know what it is that I most fear. It’s not having enough time for all the people I love. This there-is-not-enough-time belief comes from the fact that the number of days is short. Such a belief instils me with fear and puts me at risk of doing a very typical Catherine screw-up.
I’m going to try and do too much.
You see, I am still an introvert
Sometimes people who have recently met me find this funny. What with my broad grin, direct eye contact and enthusiasm for hearing my own Yorkshire voice I don’t always come across as an introvert. But I recharge alone. People exhaust me. My energy builds back up when I am quiet, working on my own projects, writing, reading, tidying my bedroom. It can be frustrating, since I love being with people so much, but it’s important for me to recognise that this is how I work.
For me, although my time is short, energy management is more important than time management.
But you know what I’m going to do the moment I reach far off lands… I’m going to forget how exhausting new colleagues, new students and new house-mates are. I’m going to say yes to every invitation to coffee I get.
You see, moving to a new country is all very exciting
Meeting new people kicks out a burst of adrenaline. I underestimate how much energy gets sapped seeing someone can be. Long-term friends who you haven’t seen in a while are a perfect example of this.
The excitement builds, I bounce, my speech gets to almost the same speed as a Spaniard, my mind goes wild as it tries to connect everything together. It feels like the past, so familiar, yet also new. It’s a precious sort of conversation.
All this excitement acts as a mask for how tired I am
Unfortunately, even the everyday becomes more exhausting when you move about.
Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
But what I’m doing is upsetting my routine
My brain has energy saving routines well engraved into it, but I’m going to change things up. Eating breakfast takes more energy when you have to decide what to eat. Shopping for food is more effort when you don’t know where the pasta isle is. Getting money out from the cash point makes your mind spin when you’re remembering different codes for different accounts and paying attention to avoiding currency conversion fees or ATM charges.
Everything I do takes more energy that I presume.
There’s a lesson in quality over quantity that I should pay attention to
I pretend to myself I know it. Most of the time I’m pretty good at abiding by my belief that it’s not seeing someone a lot that matters. What’s important to me is having a genuine connection when you do. However, prolonged absence, or a bout of loneliness, tends to make me question this belief.
The mixture of adrenaline and anxiety comes together and… boom!
So I’m going to fall flat on my face because I’m inadequate at managing my energy.
But now I want to talk about habit triggers
When you twist your life around and change things up, you lose some of your routines and habits.
Whilst I sit on my bed each morning and have my breakfast, I practice my Spanish flashcards. But in England I have breakfast at a table because we’re all very proper like that in my family.
Lunch time here is about three on a weekday, because I finish at school at half past two. But lunchtime at home will be after twelve… where therefore does a siesta fit into my routine? Not at half past three for sure… And it’s not that I always sleep in my siesta time, but I do tend to take a moment to relax. Sometimes I write in my diary, paint or read, but I make sure I’m not rushing into the next activity.
Then there’s exercise. Here, I have combined riding my bike into my life by making it part of my commute when I’m teaching in town. In England I tend to run or cycle, but in all honesty the hills of home, after the flatness of here, are quite intimidating.
Part conscious, part unconscious, these triggers are built into my routine
At home it is inevitable that I will settle back into an old routine. The triggers of the past are still wired into my brain. I have some good home-habits and some bad home-habits. Here I wake up at half six. At home it used to be more like eight.
My wonderful luck means I have a mother who will knock on my door and say something helpful like “When are we doing yoga?”
Maybe I will have breakfast in the kitchen, but maybe I can do my flashcards there instead? A siesta at half one, or two is plausible, especially if it’s collapsing on the sofa with a book (this is how I read so much). But the environmental triggers aren’t the same.
The harder challenge will be in far and distant lands
I have more space and more options. What form does exercise take, what does my diet look like, what hours am I working, is lunch eaten at home or at work? But this itself is part of the challenge, it’s part of the fun. It’s the time where you get to start over, test out a new structure, consider what is important and then make your days the evidence of those values.
There you are.
That’s what’s swirling around in my brain right now
That’s my teaspoon of awareness that I’m stirring into a whole lot of unknowns. I’m going to react too much to fear, I’m going to mismanage my energy and I’m going to have things that seemed easy, habitual, become a whole lot harder.
And reading Victor Frankl’s book has given me something to think about. Transitions are hard. Change doesn’t come easy and there’s always a cost.
But overall, my transition is a beautiful opportunity, a gift, and something I shouldn’t complain about but should be grateful for.
Where am I going to screw up?
- Where I let fear dictate
- Where I don’t manage my energy
- And where I don’t compensate for an absence of triggers
Which means I’ve got some planning to do.
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