January, cold, exam cancellations, mutant Covid, another significant birthday celebrated via zoom, yet another lockdown. I won’t bore you with the catastrophic series of disasters that have occurred since last time I posted. But, suffice to say, 2021 would have been greatly improved had I simply stayed in bed. How is anyone supposed to find their motivation when most of us are so completely spent?
“Fu..ing boring. Fu..ing Netflix,” says psychotherapist Julia Samuel, who must speak to most of us with her neat appraisal of the status quo. Best known for her wonderful work as a grief counsellor, she is also the author of the prophetically titled ‘This Too Shall Pass’. But it seems that even she is struggling to find a schedule sparky enough to see us through adversity again.
Nonetheless, the counsellor quickly rallies to offer some more professional advice. “One way of dealing with a new lockdown is to look at the dark, acknowledge it, allow the difficulty of it and then intentionally turn your attention to the light,” she says. “Be self-compassionate,” she continues. “What you say to yourself affects your mood and behaviour. One way of dealing with a new lockdown is to look at the dark, acknowledge it, and then intentionally turn your attention to the light “Be curious. Have the best day you can have today. Communicate with others — I’ve found the non-work-related Zoom lunch to be extremely helpful. And, at the end of the day, let yourself know the small wins can be a delicious cup of coffee.”
In other words, she says, preserve your sanity by keeping your expectations spectacularly low. Resist the compulsion to put deadlines on every aspect of your life. Fighting to put a timeline on things will only make you abject with misery when they fail to materialise. Hence this week’s words of upliftment are: surrender to the suck. “The paradoxical theory of change,” argues Samuel, “means that the more you accept the things you don’t want, the more you’ll be able to live with them.”
The surrender of which she speaks reminds me of my 80 year-old parents, who take a similar attitude. Despite having had their busy social life seriously curtailed, virtually no visitors bar me in nearly a year, precious little interaction with the outside world and a tsunami of toxic disinfectant accompanying their every move, they have remained in extraordinarily buoyant form.
I wouldn’t do it the discredit of describing it as Blitz spirit — their stoic pragmatism and sense of humour seemed to be drawn from a far deeper psychological reserve of self-preservation than anything so mannered — but contrary to the picture of lonely decrepitude we insist on using to describe the geriatric condition, they are the poster children for fortitude and pluck.
Samuel recalls her own mother, faced with an ongoing series of power cuts, retiring to bed with the radio and a packet of biscuits until the lights came back on. Biscuits, radio, putting on your earrings (as suggested by one colleague): these must be our small wins for now. Which isn’t to say we must abandon hope or, as Samuels describes it, “the alchemy that turns a life around”. Of course, we ache for proper holidays, huge intoxicating parties and the company of crowds. But, she says, hope must be a “feeling or behaviour”. Picture the future, dream it, but for god’s sake don’t go making plans. Which is good for the mind: but what about the body?
Seeking motivation to finesse the post-Christmas physique, I turn to another source of professional effervescence, fitness coach Peter Cobby. He too counsels the prevailing wisdom that in order to stay motivated you must create some sort of schedule. And then stick to it like glue. “Plan your day the night before,” he tells me. “Write down your three ‘must-do’s’, but make it interesting and challenging. No point setting a task you don’t want to get up for. This is the first step in having the motivation to get up and move.”
And there’s more. “Focus on habit creation,” he continues. “They say that your day is determined by the first hour from when you wake up.” And most importantly: “Don’t hit snooze.” He recommends the five-second rule preached by American TV host and motivational speaker Mel Robbins. “Once you hear that alarm, count backwards from five and, on zero, jump up and attack the day. Momentum is the key to a positive day.” As a snooze addict, I cannot pretend this will ever happen. But I admire his buccaneering spirit and have resolved at least to get up and throw myself around the yoga mat again. As for the “must do’s”, they’re a work in progress. “Buy biscuits” seems quite do-able. And of course there’s always “fu..ing Netflix”, too.