2020 has been many things. A lot has been said about what we may have all learned this year. But with learning also comes unlearning, and I think this year has provided ample opportunity to question what we already know.
Haven’t we all got a bit lost and distracted by external noise, and forgotten the very basics of what is meaningful in life? There is real value for our mental and emotional wellbeing in questioning the messaging we’ve internalised about productivity, and what it means to achieve.
The first half of 2020 consisted of “get fit, learn a language, hone your skills as being the next master baker, organise your music into alphabetical order for different moods”, and so on and so forth.
Do you remember that immense pressure we put on ourselves during the first lockdown to “DO, DO, DO”? I certainly do.
And a lot of us did. We found things to fill our time that we would never have imagined before. But did we find time to just be?
Don’t get me wrong, hobbies, creativity and getting active are great for us, but not when they are layered and coated heavily in outcome. They are great when we allow ourselves to participate in them for the simple pleasure of just doing them. That is when we get the greatest benefit.
Back in the first half of the year, even these creative outlets were wrapped up in outcome and pressure. But constant productivity has become detrimental to our everyday mental wellbeing. Creativity should never be tied down and suffocated by the looming spectre of productivity.
One of the most joyous things I have done this year is to get on my bike, put on some music and cycle down to the shop to get an ice cream or some pickled onion Monster Munch, and go and sit in the park and just be. This was a simple joy for me when I was growing up in my summer holidays, when days were endless and there was no routine and no expectations.
“If you find yourself doing nothing, don’t fall into the trap of feeling guilty.”
It’s important to remember who we are, this year of all years. We shouldn’t feel guilt or failure if we are “unproductive” or rally against a culture of constant doing. It’s critical we identify what truly brings us joy and the value of the small, the simple, of play, of imagination, of time, of space and of not having a schedule for a small period of our day, to allow ourselves that feeling of being taken somewhere not related to outcomes or goals or “things to do”.
Of course, we all have responsibilities of work, earning an income, family, life admin, caring for others and much more, and that is absolutely a reality that we cannot ignore.
But what if society and all of us individually recognised the importance of just being, and gave ourselves that gift? Even if for just five or 10 minutes each day, we stopped and were kind to ourselves.
What would happen, how would we benefit and what would we discover about ourselves? How would our mental and emotional wellbeing benefit? What kind of creative outlets would appear? What inspiration?
Maybe in this second half of 2020 and second lockdown we can stop, and rather than focusing on the external doing we can retreat to our internal worlds and find out who we are, remember what we actually enjoy, and allow ourselves to play, to find joy, to rest, to just be rather than do. Getting back to basics, our foundations, remembering what we always knew but have forgotten.
Big questions are daunting – but once we start to look at them, we find clarity, and we can live our lives more authentically. And that is where the joy lies.
Unlearning what we are told is to find happiness in life, what should make us feel good. Remembering what that actually looks likes for each of individually is a lesson we will never be able to forget again.
So, if you find yourself doing nothing, don’t fall into the trap of believing that ‘inner critic’ or feeling guilty, or rushing to ‘do’ something immediately. Instead, congratulate yourself on ‘unlearning’ and remembering what you knew to be true all along – that life is here to ‘be’ lived and not ‘done’.
Dr Radha Mogil is a practising NHS GP, broadcaster on radio & television, podcaster, author & campaigner for wellbeing.