This issue's Unsolicited Advice stolen with permission from Big Feels Club
When you’re having a hard time, it’s tempting to ask, ‘what should I do?’ rather than, ‘what do I want?’
*Should* I go this party tonight, or am I feeling too fragile?
*Should* I take on this job right now, or is it too stressful for me?
This makes sense. If I’m having a shitty time, what I *want* is complicated. I want to curl up in bed and avoid everybody, but I also crave connection and funtimes. In these moments of decision, of course I wish someone would just tell me ‘here’s what you *should* be doing right now’. It would really take the pressure off.
But asking ‘what *should* I do’ puts us in a certain mode. I call it ‘Investigation Mode’.
In Investigation Mode, the focus becomes: what am I capable of right now? What’s best for me?
When I’m in Investigation Mode, I watch myself like a hawk for signs of deterioration or improvement. I’ll wake up each morning, and the first thing I’ll think is: how bad is it today?
And the funny thing is, for me at least, asking ‘how bad is it?’ tends to leave me feeling, well, pretty bad. (Thanks brain!) [McK: for me at this point I can just circle a decision endlessly and should myself into panicked paralysis]
So, how can you check in with yourself, without just doubling down on the self-judgement?
A new way of checking in with where you’re at
I think we need a new way of checking in with ourselves, one that doesn’t just focus on how well we are (or how bad we feel).
Here's one way of thinking of it.
There are three basic phases of life, and we’re constantly cycling between them: Pushing Yourself, Overdoing It, and Resting. Your answer to the question ‘should I push myself or take it easy?’ may change, depending on what phase you’re in.
[McK: The question 'should I push myself or take it easy?' is much much less paralysing than "should I go to this party?" because it doesn't rely on predicting the outcome (Will I have a good time or will I feel weird and alienated? It's not possible to predict but i will waste hours trying).]
Here’s the thing. When it comes to this question, ‘should I push myself or take it easy?’, often there is no right answer. Not at a day-to-day level anyway.
That party tonight might make you feel better, and then that feeling may pass. Or the party might make you feel worse, and then that too will fade.
But if you think to yourself, ‘I had to skip the party because I’m a garbage person’, that probably won’t feel very good.
[McK: so try that question out if this is something you struggle with, for more context and tips, and subscribe to The Big Feels Club for a fortnightly newsletter on feelings, mental health and trying to function. Bless you Honor + Graham!]
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #46 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!
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